A few years ago nonprofit email marketers were thrown for a loop when Gmail implemented a tabbed in-box for various kinds of messages (primary, email and social). At the time it did not seem that this change would have a demonstrable effect on open and click-through rates.
However, within the last few months, Gmail has put in additional settings and rules that are having a significant impact on how, or whether, a nonprofit’s email message is making it to a constituent’s in-box at all. And this time, many organizations and companies are noticing: open rates for Gmail recipients have in some cases plummeted, and there is deep concern over both the short-term and long-term consequences of Gmail’s evolving and less than transparent process for how it manages and sorts incoming e-mails.
Several sources (including Blackbaud) have published information about their email delivery practices generally, and how to respond to these changes at Gmail. Still, as nonprofit marketers and fundraisers, as those clicking the ‘send’ button on messages to thousands of recipients, we are still in the early stages of understanding the philosophy behind one of the most important email providers out there.
The single most important issue for your nonprofit email strategy is engagement.
We don’t know how Google’s algorithm—or mix of rules—is determining whether or not a specific message will be delivered to the in-box or filtered into a spam folder. What we do know is that issues such as frequency of message, volume of message, content in the email, and overall response to emails all play a role. And we know that the last factor – generally referred to as engagement – has become the single most important issues for email marketers to consider.
Once technical specifications are in place (like DNS configuration, SPF and DKIM), and once you have a handle on email deliverability issues as a whole (here is a page on such issues for Luminate) the focus should turn to getting your email subscribers to both open your email and click on it. There is currently an operating assumption that constituents who do not engage with your email, with an open or click, are likely to have your messages sent to their spam filter; consequently, more messages from you can affect your sender reputation, which can compound the problem.
3 simple steps to increase email open rates and click-throughs
1. Slow down or cease sending email to those you know are not engaging your email; the time frame can be fairly narrow, as little as six months or shorter. Once the non-engaged constituents are suppressed or removed from your mailings, the next step is to craft e-mails that will drive the kind of engagement we’re looking for.
2. Catchy and compelling subject lines will drive open rates, the first level of engagement. If you aren’t testing email subject lines to try to measure what works, it is now imperative to do so.
3. Consider how to craft emails that will drive a click. Most of us are doing this already, but it’s now that much more critical. Emails that are content only and that don’t drive clicks, like long, text heavy newsletters, may need to become a thing of the past. Content like quizzes, surveys, pledges, and action alerts might be more effective at driving click-throughs. Again, it becomes critical to test messages to a sample audience first, and then send a winner to the remainder of your list.
So, as we begin to face down this challenge, in an environment that is evolving and short on the details we’d like, we wind up, in a way, where we should have been all along. We need to be segmenting and emailing only those constituents who want to receive our messages; these days, getting an opt-in is not enough. That needs to be complemented by actual engagement.
And we need to be sending email that is going to motivate and inspire recipients to act, more so than usual.
Take the time to study your file and understand who is not engaged at all. And then find those who are engaged, and new, and send them the right kinds of emails. It feels as is this same advice could have been given years ago. Today, in terms of both engagement and deliverability, the stakes are higher