How Engagement Affects Email Deliverability

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stoplightBack in August 2013, I wrote a blog on 5 Keys to Email Inbox Delivery, which identified engagement as the Number One key to optimal email delivery. In the blog I briefly touched on how engagement is a metric used to determine which customers are interacting with your emails, and in what ways, such as opening and clicking.

Recently, my team and I came to the realization that we should talk about how engagement affects email deliverability, using the framework of tiers of email engagement to show what those degrees of engagement could mean to you as an email marketer.

Engagement affects email deliverability

Over the years, email engagement has morphed and expanded to include many different forms and actions, which we call “tiers.” We’ve identified six, and more may emerge in time. With each tier change, ISPs (Internet service providers, the gatekeepers of the recipient’s email inbox) are building out their pass/doesn’t pass algorithms more and more, based on email recipients’ actions.

Monitoring the key aspects of these tiers will help you stay ahead of the game – and get more of your emails delivered to the inbox.

Note: The reason I’ve broken the tiers into common and uncommon categories is because ISPs are creating new ways to judge engagement that many marketers are unaware of, or unfamiliar with. These fall into the uncommon category. )

The 6 Tiers of Email Engagement

Common Tiers:

1)    Opened and clicked

2)    Opened but didn’t click

3)    Didn’t open (thus, didn’t click)

Uncommon Tiers:

4)    Opened and skimmed the message

5)    Opened and glanced through the message

6)    Opened and deleted the message

With each campaign you create, every recipient you send to will fall into one of these six tiers. It’s your job as a marketer to know which tier of email engagement they fall into and why.

In this post, I will focus on the common tiers. Next month I’ll cover the uncommon tiers.

Navigating the 3 “Common” Tiers of Email Deliverability

Tier One tells ISPs you and your email are great

stoplight green ballTier One: Opened and Clicked. With regards to Tiers One through Three, we could easily designate the level of engagement highest to lowest, respectively. That means Tier One is your most highly engaged segment; these recipients open and click on your messages continuously. ISPs note this engagement; it tells them that your email is valuable to recipients. That means that the group that will help drive inbox placement and ROI. You should continue to mail to them on a regular basis.

Tier Two tells ISPs your email is potentially good, but…

Tier Two: Opened but Didn’t Click. The second tier is considered a medium level of engaged recipients. They’re a little more interesting because their engagement is partial (they open your message but don’t click), indicating something may be lacking, such as a value proposition or a noteworthy call-to-action. ISPs notice when requested actions don’t happen, and stoplight yellow ball 400 wide Dollarphotoclub_67940009having lots of emails in this category may make them look harder to see whether or not your emails are spam.

  • Creating a strong value proposition is a huge component to the success of email because it lets recipients know “what’s in it for them.” Therefore, every campaign you create should have a value proposition. Stay close to what has historically worked. If you test – e.g., content, design, subject lines, etc. – make sure your value proposition doesn’t take a hit.
  • The call to action is the focal point of your message. Steer clear of phrases that don’t provide a lot of obvious value, such as “Click Here.” Instead use phrases such as “Call Us Now” or “Download Whitepaper” because they clearly describe the direct action you want your recipients to take, and imply the reward they will get for taking the action.

Also, make your call-to-action noticeable! Don’t throw it in at the bottom of the message; many people won’t take the time to scroll or read your whole message. Put it close to the top and in clear view to make it easy for the recipient to take the action. I’ll touch more on this subject when we discuss the uncommon tiers next month.

Tier 3 tells ISPs that your emails are not valuable

Tier Three: Didn’t Open. These are your unengaged recipients and should be treated 100% differently than the first two tiers. The reason: these people have never engaged with you and the likelihood of them ever doing so is slim to none. And: Sending to recipients who don’t engage lowers your deliverability.

stoplight red ball 400 wide Dollarphotoclub_67940009By not engaging, Tier Three recipients send the ISPs the message that your email is uninteresting and of low value, or possibly spam. This lowers your ROI and compromises your sender reputation … which adversely impacts deliverability.

One strategy is to build a re-engagement campaign: This can have high rewards if planned well. If you determine that you want to continue sending email to this group, I highly recommend pulling back on frequency in order to mitigate the hit to your sending reputation at the ISP level, which can cause issues for all tiers. This tier has the power to undo the good that Tier One did for your email sending reputation, so send sparingly and carefully.

The three common tiers discussed above all play an important role in your digital reputation and how ISPs perceive you, and each requires its own strategy.

Stay Tuned …

Next month, we will be taking the engagement of emails a step further by discussing ways to identify more nuanced – and important – information after recipients open your email; that is, are they merely glancing at it, skimming it, or deleting it? Understanding these three uncommon tiers will help your marketing initiatives both now and later on, as ISPs continuously change their algorithms.

deliverability eggs

Learn More

Act-On Delivery Insight can help with DMARCIf you want to know how your messages might be perceived by ISPs,
please reach out to our Deliverability Insight team.
We have several ways to evaluate (and help you improve) your messages and digital reputation in the ever-changing email ecosystem.