Ask the Expert: Brad Van der Woerd, Head of Customer Experience, Inbox Monster

August 24, 2022
Written by
Denis O'Sullivan
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own
Reviewed by
Ayanna Julien
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own
Alex Price
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own

Ask the Expert: Brad Van der Woerd, Head of Customer Experience, Inbox Monster

Countless myths abound in the world of email deliverability. That’s why there’s no one better to clear up these common misconceptions than the leading experts in the world of email. Every month, we’ll bring you a Q&A with leaders from inbox providers, spam trap networks, antispam systems, and more in our new Expert Series blog. 

In our second Expert Series blog, we chat with Brad Van der Woerd. Brad is the Head of Customer Experience at Inbox Monster, where he provides global email deliverability leadership and management to Inbox Monster customers. This includes digital marketing strategy as well as email deliverability consulting and best practices to a wide variety of email senders spanning from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies. A true product expert, Brad has 15 years of experience in the space and is passionate about driving results for clients.

Now, let’s dive in.

11 questions with global email deliverability leader Brad Van der Woerd

1. What does your role as Head of Customer Experience entail at Inbox Monster? 

My role here is to ensure that every customer leverages our full solution, whether it’s our deliverability monitoring platform or our professional services, to drive email marketing success. Of course, that can only start once an email reaches the intended recipient’s inbox. 

2. What are some of the common mistakes you see many companies making in email marketing?

I’m glad you asked. Here’s what comes to mind:

Faulty domain and IP setup

Many companies don’t have the right sending domain and IP structure for an email marketing program. As a result of such poor planning on the sender domain and IP plan, a lot of deliverability issues can occur. This is true whether it’s mailing marketing and transactional email from a single IP/domain or sharing a subdomain across various types of email programs with vastly different data sources. 

Often, I’ve found that this gets decided on when starting with an email service provider (ESP), and rarely reevaluated. However, senders forget that every email program evolves over time, and sometimes the domain and IP setup should evolve with the business as well. For example, it can grow in volume and require additional IP space, or a new division of the company can come on board and require a subdomain because it happens to come along with a higher risk data collection process.

Inconsistent sending cadence

A lot of deliverability issues happen when companies surprise the inbox service provider (ISP) with sudden changes in sending cadence or email volume. When you send erratically, you look like a spammer to ISP filters and automated blocking techniques. 

However, you can avoid this with careful planning, especially around seasonal peaks and valleys, but I’ve found this often gets overlooked.

Poor domain choice

Thankfully, this has been less of an issue in the last few years, but it’s still a common mistake. Instead of launching a new subdomain on top of the organizational domain, some companies choose to register a brand-new domain solely for the purpose of deploying email marketing messages. This tactic also looks extremely spam-like to an ISP or blocklist because it’s exactly what true spammers do: they find an available random domain and start sending high volumes of email from it. 

Then, ISPs detect this and block or filter email traffic immediately. This common mistake has caused far too many email marketers sleepless nights throughout their 4–6 week IP warming process, quickly turning into a painful minimum of 90 days of deliverability issues.

3. If a customer notices their IP or domain is on a blocklist, what steps do you recommend they take?

There are actually a few steps they can take:
  • Work with an industry expert to assess the type of blocklist and the impact it’ll have on your email business to help you prioritize how to deal with it. Some blocklists have a far larger impact than others, which should dictate your priority level in addressing it among your other email marketing initiatives.
  • Obtain a sample mail header from the blocklist, if available. This shows you which subject line triggered the listing and may point you in a specific direction on what source of email data caused the blocklist to flag you in the first place.
  • Confirm which subscriber list, or what data collection source, directly caused the listing. In other words, you can’t fully resolve a blocklisting without addressing the root source—and it’ll come back to haunt you if you don’t.
  • Apply your learnings. Based on what you learn about the audience, you’ll need to make some changes to how you communicate, and this likely includes no longer communicating with the high-risk group.

4. What key metric is sometimes misunderstood by senders?

Delivery rate. This surface-level metric often needs clarification, so I’ll clear it up for everyone. Delivery, often reported by an ESP, simply means that an email didn’t bounce back and successfully reached the intended ISP. However, it doesn’t tell you what percentage of deliveries actually reached the subscriber’s inbox vs. the spam folder. 

5. How can rendering tests impact email deliverability?

Receiving ISPs use many automated tools to assess whether an email is spam or legitimate. One factor checked is whether the email contains valid URLs since many spammers end up including invalid or suspect URLs within an email. Testing your email and how it renders, including how your links function, is important to ensure inbox placement since it’s critical to ISPs.

Whether an email renders well or not so well will easily affect how your subscribers engage with your email. However, a well-rendered email is easier to engage with regardless of the device used to open the email. This is crucial to ISPs, who heavily rely on subscriber engagement to determine whether or not to deliver your email to the inbox, so rendering and deliverability are very much related.

6. When a user includes Inbox Monster’s read-time pixel, what information will they get back?

Users measure how subscribers actually engage with their emails using our read-time pixel. It’ll tell the user what portion quickly skimmed it (5 secs or less), what portion actually read the email for a reasonable amount of time (5–10 secs), and what portion read the email for an extended period (10+ secs). 

It also gives the user a true email read rate while excluding any open data inflated by proxy opens (e.g., Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection) or ISPs where images are cached like Gmail and Yahoo!. In addition to this data, we feed in the browser and operating systems used to engage with the user’s email as well as the email’s country of origin.

7. How often do you recommend senders seed test their campaigns?

This always depends on how frequently a sender sends email, but I typically recommend testing deliverability daily.

8. Is there such a thing as overtesting?

On the topic of overseeding, I would only caution senders on that if they send very low email volumes and are on a dedicated IP address (e.g., less than 100,000 emails a month). Most lower-volume senders use shared IP addresses with their ESP, so overseeding wouldn't be a concern. 

I've never seen a deliverability issue strictly triggered by mailing a seed list too many times, so I never think of it as a major concern.

9. What are the most important variables to consider when you send a seed test?

Ideally, you should attach a seed test to a live promotional email send whenever possible. However, ensure the seeds load as a seed list and not as a subscriber list if your ESP has a seed list function. Seed lists also shouldn’t be privy to ESP suppression rules, bounce processing rules, or any filters that prevent nonengaging emails from receiving your emails. Lastly, the goal is to mail all seeds at once rather than spreading the seed list send over the course of several hours. 

Our platform automatically uses a wide variety of common X-header values that ESPs provide. We reference those in a mail header to classify one email send compared to another when we compile deliverability statistics.

Inbox-Monster-110. How should senders use Inbox Monster solutions with traditional email metrics (delivery percentage, opens, clicks, etc.) to analyze performance?

This goes back to the delivery vs. deliverability conversation. Senders should use their email metrics—like delivery, opens, clicks, etc.—to gauge the overall effectiveness of a given email program. These metrics can also help senders keep a close eye on which direction subscriber engagement is trending. 

Once the sender has assessed the effectiveness of a given email send, they should use Inbox Monster’s tools to: 
  • Learn more about how relevant the email was to subscribers (e.g., spam complaint rates, email read rates). 
  • Provide clarity on what factors drove the overall effectiveness of the email. For example, if inbox placement was high, we know creative content, subject line, and subscriber expectations played vital roles in driving the effectiveness. (On the other hand, if a major ISP, like Gmail, placed half of the email into the spam folder, we know opens and clicks were lower simply as a result of many subscribers not even seeing the message.) 
  • Understand what, if any, deliverability issues need resolving prior to the next important email send. That may include adjusting your subscriber segmentation (e.g., low read rate, drop in Gmail reputation, or high complaint rate?) or even list source (spam trap problem?), depending on what signals Inbox Monster reveals to you.

11. How have solutions like seed testing been impacted by Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection?

Our seed testing hasn’t been impacted by Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) since we don’t rely on opens for processing seed list placement. We choose to keep our seeds neutral so that our platform can show a sender which folder their email lands in (inbox vs. spam) for any new subscriber receiving their very first email as well as for any engaged subscriber on their mailing list.

If anything, Apple’s MPP has placed a higher demand on seed list testing and deliverability platforms everywhere, as senders have one less guiding metric to determine whether they send emails to recipients that actually want to receive their email. As a result, a lot of senders are tweaking how they define an active vs. inactive email subscriber in the wake of Apple’s MPP, so using other steering metrics to measure email relevance becomes more critical.

At Inbox Monster, we enable senders with such steering metrics like reputation scores, spam trap counts, complaint rates, and email read rates to help them achieve sending success.

Thanks to Brad! And be sure to stay tuned each month, as we’ll chat with another expert in the world of email marketing to provide you with further insight into the ins and outs of email deliverability. 

Until next time, check out Twilio SendGrid’s Email Deliverability Services packages to get started, or contact our Sales team to learn more about improving your email deliverability.

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