What I Thought I Knew About Email Then and What I Know Now Martin Tatom May 16, 2017 Best Practices // SUMMARIES ?> Email is a technology that we use every day of our lives. Whether for personal or professional uses, email intertwines heavily in our day-to-day communication. While the actual process of sending an email is a relatively uneventful action, the real secret sauce comes from the series of events in the background–which is highly complex. This is where companies like SendGrid come in to make email work for your business. The technology used to complete these tasks is designed by incredible product managers and built by the best engineers. The image below gives you an idea of just how many events need to succeed in order for an email to reach an inbox. I have had the opportunity to work in the email industry for a few years now and, I must say, I have learned something new every step of the way. This is primarily because industry and best practices are always changing. From those experiences, I thought this would be a great opportunity to discuss what I thought I knew about email when I started–and what I know now. Your email program vs. the competition Then: 1. If you are not using the latest tool or mimicking the best in class sender for your vertical, your email program may be suffering visibility and potential. 2. Keeping up with my competition is very important. My open rate should be the same or better than my competitors. Now: Only use the tools that help enhance visibility into the attributes that are vital to your company’s email program and only make changes if your internal review suggests a change versus what you are seeing within your competitive landscape. Every email program is different. The only information that should be used in the decision-making process for your email program is the negative and positive trends after each campaign and any insights from testing new initiatives with your subscribers. Matching the same metrics as your competition is not the sole determining factor. Email is a highly innovative industry. New products and tools are created every year. But this wealth of information makes it easier to start relying on the newest and shiniest product in the marketplace.Check out how your email stats compare to others by downloading our 2017 Email Benchmark Report. It is always best to remember what works for your individual email program and only make subtle changes based on the needs and goals of your email strategy. For example, you might use a competitive monitoring tool that indicates your competitors send 3 emails each week to subscribers. However, your internal open metrics signal that no more than 2 emails a week is the sweet spot for your subscribers. Trust what your subscriber base is telling you and do not make changes unless the data is suggesting a change. If a change is in order, test out the trend and validate before making a change to your cadence. You may think this is the status quo, but I have encountered many clients who want to just mimic everything the “best in class” sender is doing. Due to the frequency of the request and the type of companies that would make the request, I thought this was just the norm. However, I quickly learned after monitoring the engagement and delivery metrics after a change that this may be good for providing certain insights, but it did not translate into a best practice or better delivery and engagement rates. Marketers are very interested in metrics and how their email is performing–understandably so. While some companies may be interested in replicating the efforts of a best-in-class sender, another common statement is that clients would like to make sure they are competing in terms of open rates and other common metrics. While this is a very important question, to see how you stack up against the competition, the answer should only be a piece of the puzzle versus the sole interpreting factor in when to make changes to your email program. ESP (Email Service Provider) Then: Your ESP choice can carry enormous weight with the performance of your email program. By simply sending email with an established or well known ESP, your deliverability will see an improvement. Now: Your ESP choice is a very important decision, but it should not be the last decision you make regarding maintaining deliverability. Implementing deliverability best practices will also be important regardless of your ESP choice. Businesses come in different shapes and sizes. Whether your company is a startup in its seed stage or a mature enterprise with consistent growth rate, different organizations require different tools and technologies to execute their individual business models. An ESP (Email Service Provider) is a technology that could change depending on the communication needs of your company. Some questions to answer before choosing an ESP include: Does the ESP have the proper platform to integrate with my tools? Does the ESP have the resources to help with email authentication such as SPF and DKIM? Does the ESP provide delivery support to help interpret data and strategy? Is the data easily consumable and transferable through an API or event webhook? How complex and time consuming is an implementation? What is the final price tag for this type of service? A common question that we hear on the deliverability team is “what ESP will give us the best inbox rate?” Additionally, should we change ESPs once our company starts to grow? As an industry leader, SendGrid can confidently handle all of your communication needs, whether your company is a startup or an enterprise. Your ESP should not be the only action you should take to improve your deliverability. While an ESP is an important piece of the puzzle, your inbox rate primarily depends on your company following best practices and making the proper adjustments when your data suggests a change. Seed data Then: Seed data is the most important metric and should be a key driver in making decisions regarding your email program. Now: Although seed data is an important tool, nothing should replace your raw sending and engagement data that is provided by your ESP. Seed data should be one of the many tools you use to evaluate the performance of your email program. Each tool should provide a different perspective and a different meaning which is unique to your email program. Seed data is a data set that is made up of test email inboxes at various ISPs (Internet Service Providers) such as Gmail, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo. Seed data’s primary purpose is to provide an indication of if your email is going into the inbox or directly to the spam folder. This is very important because this could be the first sign of a larger problem that may be taking place with your company’s emails. Even though seed data is important, the data should only be used directionally because seed networks can not provide a 100% representation of your email list. Your ESP provides metrics such as requested, delivered, deferred, spam reports, bounce, blocks, and other relevant events that represent your entire “send” or “batch.” That raw ESP sending data is the data you should rely on the most. Ancillary tools like “seed data” are great to provide an additional layer of analysis on top of the event data your ESP provides. Takeaways As one of my colleagues likes to say, “email is hard.” While there are many things that I continue to learn on a daily basis about email, clients continually want to discuss their email program against the competition, ESP selection, and seed data. While this may continue to be the case, with the proper perspective and using the right tools email will fit the picture you need for your business to accomplish its goals. If you’re looking for more customized email advice, check out SendGrid’s Expert Services which provides a range of services depending on your program’s needs such as one-time consulting (remote or in office) as well as continuous monthly consulting. And for more general delivery tips that ring true no matter what your company size or industry, read our 2017 Deliverability Guide.