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WP_Query Object ( [query] => Array ( [name] => an-advocacy-driven-approach-to-email [post_type] => resources [resource-type] => blog ) [query_vars] => Array ( [name] => an-advocacy-driven-approach-to-email [post_type] => resources [resource-type] => blog [error] => [m] => [p] => 0 [post_parent] => [subpost] => [subpost_id] => [attachment] => [attachment_id] => 0 [pagename] => [page_id] => 0 [second] => [minute] => [hour] => [day] => 0 [monthnum] => 0 [year] => 0 [w] => 0 [category_name] => [tag] => [cat] => [tag_id] => [author] => [author_name] => [feed] => [tb] => [paged] => 0 [meta_key] => [meta_value] => [preview] => [s] => [sentence] => [title] => [fields] => [menu_order] => [embed] => [category__in] => Array ( ) [category__not_in] => Array ( ) [category__and] => Array ( ) [post__in] => Array ( ) [post__not_in] => Array ( ) [post_name__in] => Array ( ) [tag__in] => Array ( ) [tag__not_in] => Array ( ) [tag__and] => Array ( ) [tag_slug__in] => Array ( ) [tag_slug__and] => Array ( ) [post_parent__in] => Array ( ) [post_parent__not_in] => Array ( ) [author__in] => Array ( ) [author__not_in] => Array ( ) [ignore_sticky_posts] => [suppress_filters] => [cache_results] => 1 [update_post_term_cache] => 1 [lazy_load_term_meta] => 1 [update_post_meta_cache] => 1 [posts_per_page] => 10 [nopaging] => [comments_per_page] => 50 [no_found_rows] => [order] => DESC ) [tax_query] => [meta_query] => WP_Meta_Query Object ( [queries] => Array ( ) [relation] => [meta_table] => [meta_id_column] => [primary_table] => [primary_id_column] => [table_aliases:protected] => Array ( ) [clauses:protected] => Array ( ) [has_or_relation:protected] => ) [date_query] => [queried_object] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8242 [post_author] => 43 [post_date] => 2022-02-01 03:15:21 [post_date_gmt] => 2022-02-01 03:15:21 [post_content] => As every advocacy professional knows, email is the engine that drives grassroots programs. While text messaging and social media are important, email accounts for a large majority of communications to Congress and other elected officials. Yet it is also clear that the engine is aging. On average, advocacy emails yielded a 20% open rate, according to the M&R 2021 Benchmarks report, which is lower than the averages reported in many other industries. A study by Mail Chimp, which sends more than a billion emails a day, shows the average open rate across industries is almost 23%. That’s just the open rates. The M&R report showed that advocacy emails averaged a 2.9-percent click rate and a 3.6% conversion rate. While these numbers have ticked up slightly in recent years, they are not exactly helping organizations win hearts and minds. Clearly, the engine that drives advocacy in America needs a tune up. “Email is still the most important tool in public affairs,” said Nate May, Capitol Canary’s customer experience program manager and in-house email expert. “But we take it for granted. Like all big tools, an email system requires maintenance and it can wear down over time without it. But when we treat it properly, it delivers steady returns.” Call it an advocacy-driven approach to email: the idea that a strong  email program goes beyond list size to include proper maintenance and practices that protect your primary channel of communication and generates more impact. Proper maintenance almost always brings about higher open and click rates, which in turn generates higher engagement numbers. Indeed, there is much that can be done to improve performance and deliverability, avoid common problems, and boost email metrics for those willing to work on their program. Organizations that use a professional advocacy emailer can go a step farther, automating part of the maintenance and increasing metrics with purpose-built tools. Advocacy emailers are optimised to deliver to public officials and manage lists of supporters. They also easily provide the analytics that advocacy professionals need to steadily improve. Overall, there is much you can do to improve email performance. Based on work with thousands of advocacy organizations, we have collected a list of the most common problems and the solutions that work consistently.

Diagnosing Problems

The rules and strategies that make a solid email program have become more technical over time, but we can discuss them in non-technical terms. In essence, proper email maintenance amounts to improving your Sending Reputation. To protect inboxes from abusive senders, email service providers (ESPs) track your sending behavior. Poor practices like sending to invalid addresses, to disengaged audiences, or to recipients that mark your messages as spam will damage this reputation. A poor sending reputation will increase the likelihood that your emails will not reach your advocates. A good reputation will ensure that they do. When discussing email performance, there are two key concepts to consider. Email Delivery is the rate at which your emails are received by your advocates. When emails are blocked or bounce, they negatively impact your delivery rate. Inbox Placement is the rate at which your emails reach your recipient’s inboxes rather than spam or promotional folders. When you have a strong sending reputation, your emails reach inboxes. When you don’t, they are more likely to land in spam folders. Email service providers run complicated algorithms—most of them secret—to evaluate every email that you send. This means that running afoul of sound email practices will almost always lead to declining email performance. You can determine if your list needs maintenance by looking at several factors:
  • Delivery Rate. Consistent bounce or block rates above 4% indicate that you have a poor sending reputation and that you should consider cleaning your list.
  • Spam/Junk Rate. The industry safety threshold for acceptable spam report rates on any email is .02%. It seems low, but anything higher indicates that your list requires maintenance.
  • Open Rates. If your open rate is consistently in the single digits or if you’ve noticed a sudden drop in open rates, it usually indicates that you have an inbox placement problem and you should take a look at your list.
If you’re experiencing one or more of these problems, your email list probably needs work.

Cleaning Your List

Email cleanup involves removing advocates from your list who are never going to engage and who are simply dragging down performance and metrics. If you have a list of 10,000 but only 6,000 ever engage with your emails, you really have a list of 6,000. The other 4,000 who don’t engage only serve to negatively impact your inbox placement and delivery. This makes it harder for you to reach your real audience of 6,000. It is often best to remove them. We recommend two primary strategies to clean up your list: Engagement Prioritization and Segment Pruning. You can use one or both. Engagement Prioritization is the simplest method, and it can be used for lists of any size. It asks you to think about your list in terms of who is interacting with your email. To start, think about your email list in terms of a basic engagement funnel. Advocates who have not opened your emails in the last 6-8 months are unlikely to do so in the future. They are even less likely to go a step further and take action on your advocacy campaigns or donate to your organization. However, continuing to send them email reduces your engagement metrics and risks generating spam reports. To clean your list, start by identifying any advocates who have not opened an email in the last 6-8 months. Once you’ve identified these unengaged advocates, send them—and only them—a final “last chance” campaign, giving them the opportunity to opt in. You can get creative with this campaign. Make it something that will draw attention. Several days afterward, when you are certain that the campaign has done all it can do, export the entire segment to a spreadsheet, file it someplace safe and then unsubscribe the names from your list. In many cases, you will see metrics rise on the next campaign you run using your cleaned-up list. Segment Pruning is simply another way to clean your list. It involves breaking your list into different segments based upon how and when each part was acquired and opting-out any segments that pose a risk to the overall health of your list. This method is effective for large email lists that have been built over a long period of time or small email lists that have clear quality divides in how advocates were acquired. Segment pruning requires data about where your advocates came from (e.g. organic opt-ins, purchased, swapped or scraped from websites). This method also requires you to be honest with yourself and your team about the quality of your email list. If you find it difficult to be skeptical of your acquisition and engagement practices, segment pruning is probably not the best list-cleaning strategy. When you’re ready to start, the first thing you should do is determine how and when every address in your list was acquired. Breaking your list into as many segments as possible will help you maximize the number of addresses that you’re preserving. Next, examine each segment of your list and ask yourself two questions: 1) will any of these recipients be surprised to receive your emails and 2) will any be annoyed by your communiques? If you answer “yes,” “maybe,” or “I don’t know” to either of these questions, then those portions of the list should be included in your pruning. It is very important to answer these questions critically and honestly for each portion of your list. To help you, we’ve listed some of the common reasons why advocates may be annoyed or surprised by your emails:
  • The advocate didn’t opt in to your email program.
  • The advocate opted in to receive email from your organization, but not advocacy email specifically.
  • You have not emailed the segment in the last six months (advocates often forget that they signed up for email).
  • Your content is no longer relevant to that segment of advocates
Once you’ve identified the segments that should be pruned from your list, it’s time to begin removing the segments. If there are any portions of your list that did not explicitly opt in to receive your emails or if the acquisition method is unclear, we recommend unsubscribing them. These addresses generally are the most harmful segments of any email list. As we noted before, you can save the emails you plan to remove to a spreadsheet and run a “last chance” campaign before you unsubscribe them.

Minimizing Blocks and Bounces

Having email blocked or bounce are also indicators that your email program has issues. Blocks occur when you send an email to a valid email address, but the email is rejected by the recipient’s email service provider (ESP). Sometimes the reason for the block is innocuous, such as a full inbox. In fact, you should expect some blocks on almost all  your email sends. However, ESPs also block emails as a means to filter messages that they perceive as unwanted. If you see a rise in email blocks, it usually means that some ESPs are taking issue with one or more aspects of your email program. Each email provider uses different criteria to decide which emails to block. That means certain practices may harm your delivery with some providers more than others. To avoid blocks, you should avoid some of the practices that can act as a trigger. Below are some of the most common:
  • High Spam Report Rates. The accepted standard for email spam report rate is below .02%. If a recent email you sent has a spam report rate at or above this threshold, you should closely examine your sending practices. Was this a one-off instance or part of a larger trend? Was this email a bad fit for this audience?
  • “Spammy” Content. ESPs scan your email for content that is similar to real spam that they’ve seen in the past. Avoid spammy language like “free,” “buy” and “as seen on.”
  • Sudden Increase in Volume. Sudden increases in sending volume often trigger ESP’s to block. Users that have a couple months between their email sends or see their audience size dramatically increase should warm up to their new volume. Never send to more than double your previous largest audience, especially at volumes greater than 10,000.
  • Low Email Engagement. Open and click rates are two of the leading indicators of whether email is spam or not. When few of your recipients engage with your email, it’s a key indicator that those people don’t want your message in their inboxes.
  • High Bounce Rates. Many ESPs interpret high bounce rates as an indicator of poor list maintenance. You may see an  increase in blocks after sending to many invalid addresses. Email bounces, which occur when email is sent to invalid  addresses, are worth some focus.
All large email senders bounce some email, but doing so consistently or at high volumes can damage your email sending reputation and lead to your emails being blocked or placed in the spam folder. If you’re seeing a bounce rate that is higher than 4%, you should consider some of the following actions before your next email send:
  • Double Check Your List. A common mistake when migrating an email list is to forget to remove unsubscribes and bounced emails. Double check your list to make sure any migration that took place excluded those addresses.
  • Check Your Sources. Many organizations acquire email addresses through multiple channels. If your list comes from several different places, try to determine if a specific portion of your list is performing poorly. Focus on the age of the segments, because invalid emails are often addresses that were once valid but have since been deactivated. Identifying the source of the invalid addresses will help you come up with strategies to  prevent future bounces.
  • Set up a Thank You Email. If your bounce rate is consistently high, you may want to consider setting up a thank you email on your campaigns. On many email systems, bounced thank you emails will be automatically opted-out of your email program. This will insulate your program from the damage that comes with bouncing emails. An email tool built for advocacy can help reduce blocks and bounces by validating email addresses and removing those that will cause problems.
This type of automated pruning acts as a check on your list that reduces bounces and blocks, keeping your program healthy with minimum work.

Lowering Spam Reports & Avoiding Traps

The rate at which members of your audience report your email as spam is a leading factor in determining whether an email service provider labels your campaign as spam email. High spam report rates are usually quickly followed by lower delivery rates or delivery to spam folders. Email experts consider .02% to be the safety threshold for spam report rates. While that may seem low, any email that breaches this threshold can dramatically impact your ability to communicate with your advocates. If this happens, closely examine your email sending practices. Was this a one-off instance or part of a larger trend? Was this email a bad fit for this audience? Below are some of the leading practices that can lead to high spam rates:
  • Sending to addresses that didn’t opt into your email program
  • Sending to addresses that opted in to receive email from elsewhere in your organization you but not from your program
  • Long periods of email silence
  • Irrelevant content
  • Sudden changes in content or tone
  • Sudden changes in email cadence
  • Unannounced rebranding
If you don’t know where to start when addressing your spam problem, we’ve collected some strategies to help you reduce your spam report rate:
  • Focus on Engaged Advocates. Advocacy professionals are often very concerned with the size of their email lists. But continuously growing your email list without tending to its growth can lead to high spam report rates. Focusing the majority of your emails on advocates that have opened an email in the last 6-12 months will help reduce your spam report rates.
  • Run an Opt-in Campaign. It’s risky to continue to send to advocates who joined your email program long ago but aren’t engaging with your emails. Send an email to any advocate that hasn’t engaged with your emails in the last 12 months asking them to opt into future emails. Any advocate who does not opt-in should be unsubscribed. This will help remove people who are a risk to your sending reputation.
  • Send More Targeted Emails. “All politics is local” and so is great email content. Focus on smaller email audiences and deliver relevant, local content. Instead of sending out a national newsletter, local updates are a much better alternative. We’ve seen clients use this strategy to great effect to reduce spam rates and improve overall inbox placement.
Any discussion of spam reporting must also include Spam Traps. These are unused email addresses that email service providers and third-party security companies set up to identify spammers. Because these email addresses are inactive, you should not be sending new emails to them. If you’re triggering spam traps, email providers may start placing your emails in the spam folder or block them altogether. It’s important to realize that spam traps are an indicator of problematic email practices. Therefore, you should address the source of the problem first. It is possible (albeit difficult) to remove a spam trap from your email audience, but identifying how the trap wound up on your list should be your first priority. There are two main types of spam traps and, depending on the type of trap you are hitting, your best response will vary. Recycled Spam Traps are retired email addresses that were once used by someone, but are now abandoned. These are the most common type of trap because they are a symptom of insufficient list maintenance rather than ill-advised email collection. Users hitting this type of trap should consider opting-out old and unengaged advocates from their list. Pristine Spam Traps are email addresses that were created and intentionally added to websites to track web scrapers and list purchasers. These addresses are punished more severely by email providers. Users that hit a Pristine Spam Trap need to evaluate their email acquisition methods and the sources of their existing list. You may need to do some internal investigation into where the different  parts of your email list were obtained and consult an expert on how to proceed. Because repeatedly hitting a spam trap can quickly damage your sending reputation, we recommend pausing your email program until you have a plan to address the problem. Check your list to ensure that all old addresses, bounces and unsubscribes were removed in the last migration and that all addresses came from legitimate (preferably organic) sources. If you must continue sending emails, we recommend sending to smaller, targeted audiences. Overall, email is a primary channel at most advocacy organizations and it is important to protect it. There is some indication that advocacy organizations understand that email programs require more care and that they are taking steps in that direction. Part of that is implementing better procedures. Maintaining lists and proper practices may not be great party conversation, but it is a solid strategy. It yields real, measurable results. Cleaning and maintaining your list almost always brings about higher open and click rates, which in turn lays the foundation for increased conversion. In short, it yields better metrics and higher engagement—and that’s something we all like to talk about. [post_title] => An Advocacy-Driven Approach to Email: How to Increase Performance, Boost Metrics, & Maximize Your Program’s Impact [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => an-advocacy-driven-approach-to-email [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-02-01 03:33:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-02-01 03:33:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.quorum.us/?post_type=resources&p=8242 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => resources [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [queried_object_id] => 8242 [request] => SELECT wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts WHERE 1=1 AND wp_posts.post_name = 'an-advocacy-driven-approach-to-email' AND wp_posts.post_type = 'resources' ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC [posts] => Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8242 [post_author] => 43 [post_date] => 2022-02-01 03:15:21 [post_date_gmt] => 2022-02-01 03:15:21 [post_content] => As every advocacy professional knows, email is the engine that drives grassroots programs. While text messaging and social media are important, email accounts for a large majority of communications to Congress and other elected officials. Yet it is also clear that the engine is aging. On average, advocacy emails yielded a 20% open rate, according to the M&R 2021 Benchmarks report, which is lower than the averages reported in many other industries. A study by Mail Chimp, which sends more than a billion emails a day, shows the average open rate across industries is almost 23%. That’s just the open rates. The M&R report showed that advocacy emails averaged a 2.9-percent click rate and a 3.6% conversion rate. While these numbers have ticked up slightly in recent years, they are not exactly helping organizations win hearts and minds. Clearly, the engine that drives advocacy in America needs a tune up. “Email is still the most important tool in public affairs,” said Nate May, Capitol Canary’s customer experience program manager and in-house email expert. “But we take it for granted. Like all big tools, an email system requires maintenance and it can wear down over time without it. But when we treat it properly, it delivers steady returns.” Call it an advocacy-driven approach to email: the idea that a strong  email program goes beyond list size to include proper maintenance and practices that protect your primary channel of communication and generates more impact. Proper maintenance almost always brings about higher open and click rates, which in turn generates higher engagement numbers. Indeed, there is much that can be done to improve performance and deliverability, avoid common problems, and boost email metrics for those willing to work on their program. Organizations that use a professional advocacy emailer can go a step farther, automating part of the maintenance and increasing metrics with purpose-built tools. Advocacy emailers are optimised to deliver to public officials and manage lists of supporters. They also easily provide the analytics that advocacy professionals need to steadily improve. Overall, there is much you can do to improve email performance. Based on work with thousands of advocacy organizations, we have collected a list of the most common problems and the solutions that work consistently.

Diagnosing Problems

The rules and strategies that make a solid email program have become more technical over time, but we can discuss them in non-technical terms. In essence, proper email maintenance amounts to improving your Sending Reputation. To protect inboxes from abusive senders, email service providers (ESPs) track your sending behavior. Poor practices like sending to invalid addresses, to disengaged audiences, or to recipients that mark your messages as spam will damage this reputation. A poor sending reputation will increase the likelihood that your emails will not reach your advocates. A good reputation will ensure that they do. When discussing email performance, there are two key concepts to consider. Email Delivery is the rate at which your emails are received by your advocates. When emails are blocked or bounce, they negatively impact your delivery rate. Inbox Placement is the rate at which your emails reach your recipient’s inboxes rather than spam or promotional folders. When you have a strong sending reputation, your emails reach inboxes. When you don’t, they are more likely to land in spam folders. Email service providers run complicated algorithms—most of them secret—to evaluate every email that you send. This means that running afoul of sound email practices will almost always lead to declining email performance. You can determine if your list needs maintenance by looking at several factors:
  • Delivery Rate. Consistent bounce or block rates above 4% indicate that you have a poor sending reputation and that you should consider cleaning your list.
  • Spam/Junk Rate. The industry safety threshold for acceptable spam report rates on any email is .02%. It seems low, but anything higher indicates that your list requires maintenance.
  • Open Rates. If your open rate is consistently in the single digits or if you’ve noticed a sudden drop in open rates, it usually indicates that you have an inbox placement problem and you should take a look at your list.
If you’re experiencing one or more of these problems, your email list probably needs work.

Cleaning Your List

Email cleanup involves removing advocates from your list who are never going to engage and who are simply dragging down performance and metrics. If you have a list of 10,000 but only 6,000 ever engage with your emails, you really have a list of 6,000. The other 4,000 who don’t engage only serve to negatively impact your inbox placement and delivery. This makes it harder for you to reach your real audience of 6,000. It is often best to remove them. We recommend two primary strategies to clean up your list: Engagement Prioritization and Segment Pruning. You can use one or both. Engagement Prioritization is the simplest method, and it can be used for lists of any size. It asks you to think about your list in terms of who is interacting with your email. To start, think about your email list in terms of a basic engagement funnel. Advocates who have not opened your emails in the last 6-8 months are unlikely to do so in the future. They are even less likely to go a step further and take action on your advocacy campaigns or donate to your organization. However, continuing to send them email reduces your engagement metrics and risks generating spam reports. To clean your list, start by identifying any advocates who have not opened an email in the last 6-8 months. Once you’ve identified these unengaged advocates, send them—and only them—a final “last chance” campaign, giving them the opportunity to opt in. You can get creative with this campaign. Make it something that will draw attention. Several days afterward, when you are certain that the campaign has done all it can do, export the entire segment to a spreadsheet, file it someplace safe and then unsubscribe the names from your list. In many cases, you will see metrics rise on the next campaign you run using your cleaned-up list. Segment Pruning is simply another way to clean your list. It involves breaking your list into different segments based upon how and when each part was acquired and opting-out any segments that pose a risk to the overall health of your list. This method is effective for large email lists that have been built over a long period of time or small email lists that have clear quality divides in how advocates were acquired. Segment pruning requires data about where your advocates came from (e.g. organic opt-ins, purchased, swapped or scraped from websites). This method also requires you to be honest with yourself and your team about the quality of your email list. If you find it difficult to be skeptical of your acquisition and engagement practices, segment pruning is probably not the best list-cleaning strategy. When you’re ready to start, the first thing you should do is determine how and when every address in your list was acquired. Breaking your list into as many segments as possible will help you maximize the number of addresses that you’re preserving. Next, examine each segment of your list and ask yourself two questions: 1) will any of these recipients be surprised to receive your emails and 2) will any be annoyed by your communiques? If you answer “yes,” “maybe,” or “I don’t know” to either of these questions, then those portions of the list should be included in your pruning. It is very important to answer these questions critically and honestly for each portion of your list. To help you, we’ve listed some of the common reasons why advocates may be annoyed or surprised by your emails:
  • The advocate didn’t opt in to your email program.
  • The advocate opted in to receive email from your organization, but not advocacy email specifically.
  • You have not emailed the segment in the last six months (advocates often forget that they signed up for email).
  • Your content is no longer relevant to that segment of advocates
Once you’ve identified the segments that should be pruned from your list, it’s time to begin removing the segments. If there are any portions of your list that did not explicitly opt in to receive your emails or if the acquisition method is unclear, we recommend unsubscribing them. These addresses generally are the most harmful segments of any email list. As we noted before, you can save the emails you plan to remove to a spreadsheet and run a “last chance” campaign before you unsubscribe them.

Minimizing Blocks and Bounces

Having email blocked or bounce are also indicators that your email program has issues. Blocks occur when you send an email to a valid email address, but the email is rejected by the recipient’s email service provider (ESP). Sometimes the reason for the block is innocuous, such as a full inbox. In fact, you should expect some blocks on almost all  your email sends. However, ESPs also block emails as a means to filter messages that they perceive as unwanted. If you see a rise in email blocks, it usually means that some ESPs are taking issue with one or more aspects of your email program. Each email provider uses different criteria to decide which emails to block. That means certain practices may harm your delivery with some providers more than others. To avoid blocks, you should avoid some of the practices that can act as a trigger. Below are some of the most common:
  • High Spam Report Rates. The accepted standard for email spam report rate is below .02%. If a recent email you sent has a spam report rate at or above this threshold, you should closely examine your sending practices. Was this a one-off instance or part of a larger trend? Was this email a bad fit for this audience?
  • “Spammy” Content. ESPs scan your email for content that is similar to real spam that they’ve seen in the past. Avoid spammy language like “free,” “buy” and “as seen on.”
  • Sudden Increase in Volume. Sudden increases in sending volume often trigger ESP’s to block. Users that have a couple months between their email sends or see their audience size dramatically increase should warm up to their new volume. Never send to more than double your previous largest audience, especially at volumes greater than 10,000.
  • Low Email Engagement. Open and click rates are two of the leading indicators of whether email is spam or not. When few of your recipients engage with your email, it’s a key indicator that those people don’t want your message in their inboxes.
  • High Bounce Rates. Many ESPs interpret high bounce rates as an indicator of poor list maintenance. You may see an  increase in blocks after sending to many invalid addresses. Email bounces, which occur when email is sent to invalid  addresses, are worth some focus.
All large email senders bounce some email, but doing so consistently or at high volumes can damage your email sending reputation and lead to your emails being blocked or placed in the spam folder. If you’re seeing a bounce rate that is higher than 4%, you should consider some of the following actions before your next email send:
  • Double Check Your List. A common mistake when migrating an email list is to forget to remove unsubscribes and bounced emails. Double check your list to make sure any migration that took place excluded those addresses.
  • Check Your Sources. Many organizations acquire email addresses through multiple channels. If your list comes from several different places, try to determine if a specific portion of your list is performing poorly. Focus on the age of the segments, because invalid emails are often addresses that were once valid but have since been deactivated. Identifying the source of the invalid addresses will help you come up with strategies to  prevent future bounces.
  • Set up a Thank You Email. If your bounce rate is consistently high, you may want to consider setting up a thank you email on your campaigns. On many email systems, bounced thank you emails will be automatically opted-out of your email program. This will insulate your program from the damage that comes with bouncing emails. An email tool built for advocacy can help reduce blocks and bounces by validating email addresses and removing those that will cause problems.
This type of automated pruning acts as a check on your list that reduces bounces and blocks, keeping your program healthy with minimum work.

Lowering Spam Reports & Avoiding Traps

The rate at which members of your audience report your email as spam is a leading factor in determining whether an email service provider labels your campaign as spam email. High spam report rates are usually quickly followed by lower delivery rates or delivery to spam folders. Email experts consider .02% to be the safety threshold for spam report rates. While that may seem low, any email that breaches this threshold can dramatically impact your ability to communicate with your advocates. If this happens, closely examine your email sending practices. Was this a one-off instance or part of a larger trend? Was this email a bad fit for this audience? Below are some of the leading practices that can lead to high spam rates:
  • Sending to addresses that didn’t opt into your email program
  • Sending to addresses that opted in to receive email from elsewhere in your organization you but not from your program
  • Long periods of email silence
  • Irrelevant content
  • Sudden changes in content or tone
  • Sudden changes in email cadence
  • Unannounced rebranding
If you don’t know where to start when addressing your spam problem, we’ve collected some strategies to help you reduce your spam report rate:
  • Focus on Engaged Advocates. Advocacy professionals are often very concerned with the size of their email lists. But continuously growing your email list without tending to its growth can lead to high spam report rates. Focusing the majority of your emails on advocates that have opened an email in the last 6-12 months will help reduce your spam report rates.
  • Run an Opt-in Campaign. It’s risky to continue to send to advocates who joined your email program long ago but aren’t engaging with your emails. Send an email to any advocate that hasn’t engaged with your emails in the last 12 months asking them to opt into future emails. Any advocate who does not opt-in should be unsubscribed. This will help remove people who are a risk to your sending reputation.
  • Send More Targeted Emails. “All politics is local” and so is great email content. Focus on smaller email audiences and deliver relevant, local content. Instead of sending out a national newsletter, local updates are a much better alternative. We’ve seen clients use this strategy to great effect to reduce spam rates and improve overall inbox placement.
Any discussion of spam reporting must also include Spam Traps. These are unused email addresses that email service providers and third-party security companies set up to identify spammers. Because these email addresses are inactive, you should not be sending new emails to them. If you’re triggering spam traps, email providers may start placing your emails in the spam folder or block them altogether. It’s important to realize that spam traps are an indicator of problematic email practices. Therefore, you should address the source of the problem first. It is possible (albeit difficult) to remove a spam trap from your email audience, but identifying how the trap wound up on your list should be your first priority. There are two main types of spam traps and, depending on the type of trap you are hitting, your best response will vary. Recycled Spam Traps are retired email addresses that were once used by someone, but are now abandoned. These are the most common type of trap because they are a symptom of insufficient list maintenance rather than ill-advised email collection. Users hitting this type of trap should consider opting-out old and unengaged advocates from their list. Pristine Spam Traps are email addresses that were created and intentionally added to websites to track web scrapers and list purchasers. These addresses are punished more severely by email providers. Users that hit a Pristine Spam Trap need to evaluate their email acquisition methods and the sources of their existing list. You may need to do some internal investigation into where the different  parts of your email list were obtained and consult an expert on how to proceed. Because repeatedly hitting a spam trap can quickly damage your sending reputation, we recommend pausing your email program until you have a plan to address the problem. Check your list to ensure that all old addresses, bounces and unsubscribes were removed in the last migration and that all addresses came from legitimate (preferably organic) sources. If you must continue sending emails, we recommend sending to smaller, targeted audiences. Overall, email is a primary channel at most advocacy organizations and it is important to protect it. There is some indication that advocacy organizations understand that email programs require more care and that they are taking steps in that direction. Part of that is implementing better procedures. Maintaining lists and proper practices may not be great party conversation, but it is a solid strategy. It yields real, measurable results. Cleaning and maintaining your list almost always brings about higher open and click rates, which in turn lays the foundation for increased conversion. In short, it yields better metrics and higher engagement—and that’s something we all like to talk about. [post_title] => An Advocacy-Driven Approach to Email: How to Increase Performance, Boost Metrics, & Maximize Your Program’s Impact [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => an-advocacy-driven-approach-to-email [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-02-01 03:33:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-02-01 03:33:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.quorum.us/?post_type=resources&p=8242 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => resources [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 1 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8242 [post_author] => 43 [post_date] => 2022-02-01 03:15:21 [post_date_gmt] => 2022-02-01 03:15:21 [post_content] => As every advocacy professional knows, email is the engine that drives grassroots programs. While text messaging and social media are important, email accounts for a large majority of communications to Congress and other elected officials. Yet it is also clear that the engine is aging. On average, advocacy emails yielded a 20% open rate, according to the M&R 2021 Benchmarks report, which is lower than the averages reported in many other industries. A study by Mail Chimp, which sends more than a billion emails a day, shows the average open rate across industries is almost 23%. That’s just the open rates. The M&R report showed that advocacy emails averaged a 2.9-percent click rate and a 3.6% conversion rate. While these numbers have ticked up slightly in recent years, they are not exactly helping organizations win hearts and minds. Clearly, the engine that drives advocacy in America needs a tune up. “Email is still the most important tool in public affairs,” said Nate May, Capitol Canary’s customer experience program manager and in-house email expert. “But we take it for granted. Like all big tools, an email system requires maintenance and it can wear down over time without it. But when we treat it properly, it delivers steady returns.” Call it an advocacy-driven approach to email: the idea that a strong  email program goes beyond list size to include proper maintenance and practices that protect your primary channel of communication and generates more impact. Proper maintenance almost always brings about higher open and click rates, which in turn generates higher engagement numbers. Indeed, there is much that can be done to improve performance and deliverability, avoid common problems, and boost email metrics for those willing to work on their program. Organizations that use a professional advocacy emailer can go a step farther, automating part of the maintenance and increasing metrics with purpose-built tools. Advocacy emailers are optimised to deliver to public officials and manage lists of supporters. They also easily provide the analytics that advocacy professionals need to steadily improve. Overall, there is much you can do to improve email performance. Based on work with thousands of advocacy organizations, we have collected a list of the most common problems and the solutions that work consistently.

Diagnosing Problems

The rules and strategies that make a solid email program have become more technical over time, but we can discuss them in non-technical terms. In essence, proper email maintenance amounts to improving your Sending Reputation. To protect inboxes from abusive senders, email service providers (ESPs) track your sending behavior. Poor practices like sending to invalid addresses, to disengaged audiences, or to recipients that mark your messages as spam will damage this reputation. A poor sending reputation will increase the likelihood that your emails will not reach your advocates. A good reputation will ensure that they do. When discussing email performance, there are two key concepts to consider. Email Delivery is the rate at which your emails are received by your advocates. When emails are blocked or bounce, they negatively impact your delivery rate. Inbox Placement is the rate at which your emails reach your recipient’s inboxes rather than spam or promotional folders. When you have a strong sending reputation, your emails reach inboxes. When you don’t, they are more likely to land in spam folders. Email service providers run complicated algorithms—most of them secret—to evaluate every email that you send. This means that running afoul of sound email practices will almost always lead to declining email performance. You can determine if your list needs maintenance by looking at several factors:
  • Delivery Rate. Consistent bounce or block rates above 4% indicate that you have a poor sending reputation and that you should consider cleaning your list.
  • Spam/Junk Rate. The industry safety threshold for acceptable spam report rates on any email is .02%. It seems low, but anything higher indicates that your list requires maintenance.
  • Open Rates. If your open rate is consistently in the single digits or if you’ve noticed a sudden drop in open rates, it usually indicates that you have an inbox placement problem and you should take a look at your list.
If you’re experiencing one or more of these problems, your email list probably needs work.

Cleaning Your List

Email cleanup involves removing advocates from your list who are never going to engage and who are simply dragging down performance and metrics. If you have a list of 10,000 but only 6,000 ever engage with your emails, you really have a list of 6,000. The other 4,000 who don’t engage only serve to negatively impact your inbox placement and delivery. This makes it harder for you to reach your real audience of 6,000. It is often best to remove them. We recommend two primary strategies to clean up your list: Engagement Prioritization and Segment Pruning. You can use one or both. Engagement Prioritization is the simplest method, and it can be used for lists of any size. It asks you to think about your list in terms of who is interacting with your email. To start, think about your email list in terms of a basic engagement funnel. Advocates who have not opened your emails in the last 6-8 months are unlikely to do so in the future. They are even less likely to go a step further and take action on your advocacy campaigns or donate to your organization. However, continuing to send them email reduces your engagement metrics and risks generating spam reports. To clean your list, start by identifying any advocates who have not opened an email in the last 6-8 months. Once you’ve identified these unengaged advocates, send them—and only them—a final “last chance” campaign, giving them the opportunity to opt in. You can get creative with this campaign. Make it something that will draw attention. Several days afterward, when you are certain that the campaign has done all it can do, export the entire segment to a spreadsheet, file it someplace safe and then unsubscribe the names from your list. In many cases, you will see metrics rise on the next campaign you run using your cleaned-up list. Segment Pruning is simply another way to clean your list. It involves breaking your list into different segments based upon how and when each part was acquired and opting-out any segments that pose a risk to the overall health of your list. This method is effective for large email lists that have been built over a long period of time or small email lists that have clear quality divides in how advocates were acquired. Segment pruning requires data about where your advocates came from (e.g. organic opt-ins, purchased, swapped or scraped from websites). This method also requires you to be honest with yourself and your team about the quality of your email list. If you find it difficult to be skeptical of your acquisition and engagement practices, segment pruning is probably not the best list-cleaning strategy. When you’re ready to start, the first thing you should do is determine how and when every address in your list was acquired. Breaking your list into as many segments as possible will help you maximize the number of addresses that you’re preserving. Next, examine each segment of your list and ask yourself two questions: 1) will any of these recipients be surprised to receive your emails and 2) will any be annoyed by your communiques? If you answer “yes,” “maybe,” or “I don’t know” to either of these questions, then those portions of the list should be included in your pruning. It is very important to answer these questions critically and honestly for each portion of your list. To help you, we’ve listed some of the common reasons why advocates may be annoyed or surprised by your emails:
  • The advocate didn’t opt in to your email program.
  • The advocate opted in to receive email from your organization, but not advocacy email specifically.
  • You have not emailed the segment in the last six months (advocates often forget that they signed up for email).
  • Your content is no longer relevant to that segment of advocates
Once you’ve identified the segments that should be pruned from your list, it’s time to begin removing the segments. If there are any portions of your list that did not explicitly opt in to receive your emails or if the acquisition method is unclear, we recommend unsubscribing them. These addresses generally are the most harmful segments of any email list. As we noted before, you can save the emails you plan to remove to a spreadsheet and run a “last chance” campaign before you unsubscribe them.

Minimizing Blocks and Bounces

Having email blocked or bounce are also indicators that your email program has issues. Blocks occur when you send an email to a valid email address, but the email is rejected by the recipient’s email service provider (ESP). Sometimes the reason for the block is innocuous, such as a full inbox. In fact, you should expect some blocks on almost all  your email sends. However, ESPs also block emails as a means to filter messages that they perceive as unwanted. If you see a rise in email blocks, it usually means that some ESPs are taking issue with one or more aspects of your email program. Each email provider uses different criteria to decide which emails to block. That means certain practices may harm your delivery with some providers more than others. To avoid blocks, you should avoid some of the practices that can act as a trigger. Below are some of the most common:
  • High Spam Report Rates. The accepted standard for email spam report rate is below .02%. If a recent email you sent has a spam report rate at or above this threshold, you should closely examine your sending practices. Was this a one-off instance or part of a larger trend? Was this email a bad fit for this audience?
  • “Spammy” Content. ESPs scan your email for content that is similar to real spam that they’ve seen in the past. Avoid spammy language like “free,” “buy” and “as seen on.”
  • Sudden Increase in Volume. Sudden increases in sending volume often trigger ESP’s to block. Users that have a couple months between their email sends or see their audience size dramatically increase should warm up to their new volume. Never send to more than double your previous largest audience, especially at volumes greater than 10,000.
  • Low Email Engagement. Open and click rates are two of the leading indicators of whether email is spam or not. When few of your recipients engage with your email, it’s a key indicator that those people don’t want your message in their inboxes.
  • High Bounce Rates. Many ESPs interpret high bounce rates as an indicator of poor list maintenance. You may see an  increase in blocks after sending to many invalid addresses. Email bounces, which occur when email is sent to invalid  addresses, are worth some focus.
All large email senders bounce some email, but doing so consistently or at high volumes can damage your email sending reputation and lead to your emails being blocked or placed in the spam folder. If you’re seeing a bounce rate that is higher than 4%, you should consider some of the following actions before your next email send:
  • Double Check Your List. A common mistake when migrating an email list is to forget to remove unsubscribes and bounced emails. Double check your list to make sure any migration that took place excluded those addresses.
  • Check Your Sources. Many organizations acquire email addresses through multiple channels. If your list comes from several different places, try to determine if a specific portion of your list is performing poorly. Focus on the age of the segments, because invalid emails are often addresses that were once valid but have since been deactivated. Identifying the source of the invalid addresses will help you come up with strategies to  prevent future bounces.
  • Set up a Thank You Email. If your bounce rate is consistently high, you may want to consider setting up a thank you email on your campaigns. On many email systems, bounced thank you emails will be automatically opted-out of your email program. This will insulate your program from the damage that comes with bouncing emails. An email tool built for advocacy can help reduce blocks and bounces by validating email addresses and removing those that will cause problems.
This type of automated pruning acts as a check on your list that reduces bounces and blocks, keeping your program healthy with minimum work.

Lowering Spam Reports & Avoiding Traps

The rate at which members of your audience report your email as spam is a leading factor in determining whether an email service provider labels your campaign as spam email. High spam report rates are usually quickly followed by lower delivery rates or delivery to spam folders. Email experts consider .02% to be the safety threshold for spam report rates. While that may seem low, any email that breaches this threshold can dramatically impact your ability to communicate with your advocates. If this happens, closely examine your email sending practices. Was this a one-off instance or part of a larger trend? Was this email a bad fit for this audience? Below are some of the leading practices that can lead to high spam rates:
  • Sending to addresses that didn’t opt into your email program
  • Sending to addresses that opted in to receive email from elsewhere in your organization you but not from your program
  • Long periods of email silence
  • Irrelevant content
  • Sudden changes in content or tone
  • Sudden changes in email cadence
  • Unannounced rebranding
If you don’t know where to start when addressing your spam problem, we’ve collected some strategies to help you reduce your spam report rate:
  • Focus on Engaged Advocates. Advocacy professionals are often very concerned with the size of their email lists. But continuously growing your email list without tending to its growth can lead to high spam report rates. Focusing the majority of your emails on advocates that have opened an email in the last 6-12 months will help reduce your spam report rates.
  • Run an Opt-in Campaign. It’s risky to continue to send to advocates who joined your email program long ago but aren’t engaging with your emails. Send an email to any advocate that hasn’t engaged with your emails in the last 12 months asking them to opt into future emails. Any advocate who does not opt-in should be unsubscribed. This will help remove people who are a risk to your sending reputation.
  • Send More Targeted Emails. “All politics is local” and so is great email content. Focus on smaller email audiences and deliver relevant, local content. Instead of sending out a national newsletter, local updates are a much better alternative. We’ve seen clients use this strategy to great effect to reduce spam rates and improve overall inbox placement.
Any discussion of spam reporting must also include Spam Traps. These are unused email addresses that email service providers and third-party security companies set up to identify spammers. Because these email addresses are inactive, you should not be sending new emails to them. If you’re triggering spam traps, email providers may start placing your emails in the spam folder or block them altogether. It’s important to realize that spam traps are an indicator of problematic email practices. Therefore, you should address the source of the problem first. It is possible (albeit difficult) to remove a spam trap from your email audience, but identifying how the trap wound up on your list should be your first priority. There are two main types of spam traps and, depending on the type of trap you are hitting, your best response will vary. Recycled Spam Traps are retired email addresses that were once used by someone, but are now abandoned. These are the most common type of trap because they are a symptom of insufficient list maintenance rather than ill-advised email collection. Users hitting this type of trap should consider opting-out old and unengaged advocates from their list. Pristine Spam Traps are email addresses that were created and intentionally added to websites to track web scrapers and list purchasers. These addresses are punished more severely by email providers. Users that hit a Pristine Spam Trap need to evaluate their email acquisition methods and the sources of their existing list. You may need to do some internal investigation into where the different  parts of your email list were obtained and consult an expert on how to proceed. Because repeatedly hitting a spam trap can quickly damage your sending reputation, we recommend pausing your email program until you have a plan to address the problem. Check your list to ensure that all old addresses, bounces and unsubscribes were removed in the last migration and that all addresses came from legitimate (preferably organic) sources. If you must continue sending emails, we recommend sending to smaller, targeted audiences. Overall, email is a primary channel at most advocacy organizations and it is important to protect it. There is some indication that advocacy organizations understand that email programs require more care and that they are taking steps in that direction. Part of that is implementing better procedures. Maintaining lists and proper practices may not be great party conversation, but it is a solid strategy. It yields real, measurable results. Cleaning and maintaining your list almost always brings about higher open and click rates, which in turn lays the foundation for increased conversion. In short, it yields better metrics and higher engagement—and that’s something we all like to talk about. [post_title] => An Advocacy-Driven Approach to Email: How to Increase Performance, Boost Metrics, & Maximize Your Program’s Impact [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => an-advocacy-driven-approach-to-email [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-02-01 03:33:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-02-01 03:33:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.quorum.us/?post_type=resources&p=8242 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => resources [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [comment_count] => 0 [current_comment] => -1 [found_posts] => 1 [max_num_pages] => 0 [max_num_comment_pages] => 0 [is_single] => 1 [is_preview] => [is_page] => [is_archive] => [is_date] => [is_year] => [is_month] => [is_day] => [is_time] => [is_author] => [is_category] => [is_tag] => [is_tax] => [is_search] => [is_feed] => [is_comment_feed] => [is_trackback] => [is_home] => [is_privacy_policy] => [is_404] => [is_embed] => [is_paged] => [is_admin] => [is_attachment] => [is_singular] => 1 [is_robots] => [is_favicon] => [is_posts_page] => [is_post_type_archive] => [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => 4237373325b364ecee559fc9bc874c19 [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => [thumbnails_cached] => [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => [compat_fields:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => query_vars_hash [1] => query_vars_changed ) [compat_methods:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => init_query_flags [1] => parse_tax_query ) )
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An Advocacy-Driven Approach to Email: How to Increase Performance, Boost Metrics, & Maximize Your Program’s Impact

An Advocacy-Driven Approach to Email: How to Increase Performance, Boost Metrics, & Maximize Your Program’s Impact

As every advocacy professional knows, email is the engine that drives grassroots programs. While text messaging and social media are important, email accounts for a large majority of communications to Congress and other elected officials.

Yet it is also clear that the engine is aging. On average, advocacy emails yielded a 20% open rate, according to the M&R 2021 Benchmarks report, which is lower than the averages reported in many other industries. A study by Mail Chimp, which sends
more than a billion emails a day, shows the average open rate across industries is almost 23%.

That’s just the open rates. The M&R report showed that advocacy emails averaged a 2.9-percent click rate and a 3.6% conversion rate. While these numbers have ticked up slightly in recent years, they are not exactly helping organizations win hearts and minds. Clearly, the engine that drives advocacy in America needs a tune up.

“Email is still the most important tool in public affairs,” said Nate May, Capitol Canary’s customer experience program manager and in-house email expert. “But we take it for granted. Like all big tools, an email system requires maintenance and it can wear down over time without it. But when we treat it properly, it delivers steady returns.”

Call it an advocacy-driven approach to email: the idea that a strong  email program goes beyond list size to include proper maintenance and practices that protect your primary channel of communication and generates more impact.

Proper maintenance almost always brings about higher open and click rates, which in turn generates higher engagement numbers. Indeed, there is much that can be done to improve performance and deliverability, avoid common problems, and boost email metrics for those willing to work on their program.

Organizations that use a professional advocacy emailer can go a step farther, automating part of the maintenance and increasing metrics with purpose-built tools.

Advocacy emailers are optimised to deliver to public officials and manage lists of supporters. They also easily provide the analytics that advocacy professionals need to steadily improve.

Overall, there is much you can do to improve email performance. Based on work with thousands of advocacy organizations, we have collected a list of the most common problems and the solutions that work consistently.

Diagnosing Problems

The rules and strategies that make a solid email program have become more technical over time, but we can discuss them in non-technical terms. In essence, proper email maintenance amounts to improving your Sending Reputation.

To protect inboxes from abusive senders, email service providers (ESPs) track your sending behavior. Poor practices like sending to invalid addresses, to disengaged audiences, or to recipients that mark your messages as spam will damage this reputation. A poor sending reputation will increase the likelihood that your emails will not reach your advocates. A good reputation will ensure that they do.

When discussing email performance, there are two key concepts to consider. Email Delivery is the rate at which your emails are received by your advocates. When emails are blocked or bounce, they negatively impact your delivery rate. Inbox Placement is the rate at which your emails reach your recipient’s inboxes rather than spam or promotional folders. When you have a strong sending reputation, your emails reach inboxes. When you don’t, they are more likely to land in spam folders.

Email service providers run complicated algorithms—most of them secret—to evaluate every email that you send. This means that running afoul of sound email practices will almost always lead to declining email performance. You can determine if your list needs maintenance by looking at several factors:

  • Delivery Rate. Consistent bounce or block rates above 4% indicate that you have a poor sending reputation and that you should consider cleaning your list.
  • Spam/Junk Rate. The industry safety threshold for acceptable spam report rates on any email is .02%. It seems low, but anything higher indicates that your list requires maintenance.
  • Open Rates. If your open rate is consistently in the single digits or if you’ve noticed a sudden drop in open rates, it usually indicates that you have an inbox placement problem and you should take a look at your list.

If you’re experiencing one or more of these problems, your email list probably needs work.

Cleaning Your List

Email cleanup involves removing advocates from your list who are never going to engage and who are simply dragging down performance and metrics. If you have a list of 10,000 but only 6,000 ever engage with your emails, you really have a list of 6,000. The other 4,000 who don’t engage only serve to negatively impact your inbox placement and delivery. This makes it harder for you to reach your real audience of 6,000. It is often best to remove them. We recommend two primary strategies to clean up your list: Engagement Prioritization and Segment Pruning. You can use one or both.

Engagement Prioritization is the simplest method, and it can be used for lists of any size. It asks you to think about your list in terms of who is interacting with your email. To start, think about your email list in terms of a basic engagement funnel. Advocates who have not opened your emails in the last 6-8 months are unlikely to do so in the future. They are even less likely to go a step further and take action on your advocacy campaigns or donate to your organization. However, continuing to send them email reduces your engagement metrics and risks generating spam reports.

To clean your list, start by identifying any advocates who have not opened an email in the last 6-8 months. Once you’ve identified these unengaged advocates, send them—and only them—a final “last chance” campaign, giving them the opportunity to opt in.

You can get creative with this campaign. Make it something that will draw attention. Several days afterward, when you are certain that the campaign has done all it can do, export the entire segment to a spreadsheet, file it someplace safe and then unsubscribe the names from your list. In many cases, you will see metrics rise on the next campaign you run using your cleaned-up list.

Segment Pruning is simply another way to clean your list. It involves breaking your list into different segments based upon how and when each part was acquired and opting-out any segments that pose a risk to the overall health of your list. This method is effective for large email lists that have been built over a long period of time or small email lists that have clear quality divides in how advocates were acquired.

Segment pruning requires data about where your advocates came from (e.g. organic opt-ins, purchased, swapped or scraped from websites). This method also requires you to be honest with yourself and your team about the quality of your email list. If you find it difficult to be skeptical of your acquisition and engagement practices, segment pruning is probably not the best list-cleaning strategy.

When you’re ready to start, the first thing you should do is determine how and when every address in your list was acquired. Breaking your list into as many segments as possible will help you maximize the number of addresses that you’re preserving. Next, examine each segment of your list and ask yourself two questions: 1) will any of these recipients be surprised to receive your emails and 2) will any be annoyed by your communiques? If you answer “yes,” “maybe,” or “I don’t know” to either of these questions, then those portions of the list should be included in your pruning. It is very important to answer these questions critically and honestly for each portion of your list. To help you, we’ve listed some of the common reasons why advocates may be annoyed or surprised by your emails:

  • The advocate didn’t opt in to your email program.
  • The advocate opted in to receive email from your organization, but not advocacy email specifically.
  • You have not emailed the segment in the last six months (advocates often forget that they signed up for email).
  • Your content is no longer relevant to that segment of advocates

Once you’ve identified the segments that should be pruned from your list, it’s time to begin removing the segments. If there are any portions of your list that did not explicitly opt in to receive your emails or if the acquisition method is unclear, we recommend unsubscribing them. These addresses generally are the most harmful segments of any email list. As we noted before, you can save the emails you plan to remove to a spreadsheet and run a “last chance” campaign before you unsubscribe them.

Minimizing Blocks and Bounces

Having email blocked or bounce are also indicators that your email program has issues. Blocks occur when you send an email to a valid email address, but the email is rejected by the recipient’s email service provider (ESP). Sometimes the reason for the block is innocuous, such as a full inbox. In fact, you should expect some blocks on almost all  your email sends. However, ESPs also block emails as a means to filter messages that they perceive as unwanted. If you see a rise in email blocks, it usually means that some ESPs are taking issue with one or more aspects of your email program.

Each email provider uses different criteria to decide which emails to block. That means certain practices may harm your delivery with some providers more than others. To avoid blocks, you should avoid some of the practices that can act as a trigger. Below are some of the most common:

  • High Spam Report Rates. The accepted standard for email spam report rate is below .02%. If a recent email you sent has a spam report rate at or above this threshold, you should closely examine your sending practices. Was this a one-off instance or part of a larger trend? Was this email a bad fit for this audience?
  • “Spammy” Content. ESPs scan your email for content that is similar to real spam that they’ve seen in the past. Avoid spammy language like “free,” “buy” and “as seen on.”
  • Sudden Increase in Volume. Sudden increases in sending volume often trigger ESP’s to block. Users that have a couple months between their email sends or see their audience size dramatically increase should warm up to their new volume. Never send to more than double your previous largest audience, especially at volumes greater than 10,000.
  • Low Email Engagement. Open and click rates are two of the leading indicators of whether email is spam or not. When few of your recipients engage with your email, it’s a key indicator that those people don’t want your message in their inboxes.
  • High Bounce Rates. Many ESPs interpret high bounce rates as an indicator of poor list maintenance. You may see an  increase in blocks after sending to many invalid addresses. Email bounces, which occur when email is sent to invalid  addresses, are worth some focus.

All large email senders bounce some email, but doing so consistently or at high volumes can damage your email sending reputation and lead to your emails being blocked or placed in the spam folder.

If you’re seeing a bounce rate that is higher than 4%, you should consider some of the following actions before your next email send:

  • Double Check Your List. A common mistake when migrating an email list is to forget to remove unsubscribes and bounced emails. Double check your list to make sure any migration that took place excluded those addresses.
  • Check Your Sources. Many organizations acquire email addresses through multiple channels. If your list comes from several different places, try to determine if a specific portion of your list is performing poorly. Focus on the age of the segments, because invalid emails are often addresses that were once valid but have since been deactivated. Identifying the source of the invalid addresses will help you come up with strategies to  prevent future bounces.
  • Set up a Thank You Email. If your bounce rate is consistently high, you may want to consider setting up a thank you email on your campaigns. On many email systems, bounced thank you emails will be automatically opted-out of your email program. This will insulate your program from the damage that comes with bouncing emails. An email tool built for advocacy can help reduce blocks and bounces by validating email addresses and removing those that will cause problems.

This type of automated pruning acts as a check on your list that reduces bounces and blocks, keeping your program healthy with minimum work.

Lowering Spam Reports & Avoiding Traps

The rate at which members of your audience report your email as spam is a leading factor in determining whether an email service provider labels your campaign as spam email. High spam report rates are usually quickly followed by lower delivery rates or delivery to spam folders.

Email experts consider .02% to be the safety threshold for spam report rates. While that may seem low, any email that breaches this threshold can dramatically impact your ability to communicate with your advocates. If this happens, closely examine your email sending practices. Was this a one-off instance or part of a larger trend? Was this email a bad fit for this audience? Below are some of the leading practices that can lead to high spam rates:

  • Sending to addresses that didn’t opt into your email program
  • Sending to addresses that opted in to receive email from elsewhere in your organization you but not from your program
  • Long periods of email silence
  • Irrelevant content
  • Sudden changes in content or tone
  • Sudden changes in email cadence
  • Unannounced rebranding

If you don’t know where to start when addressing your spam problem, we’ve collected some strategies to help you reduce your spam report rate:

  • Focus on Engaged Advocates. Advocacy professionals are often very concerned with the size of their email lists. But continuously growing your email list without tending to its growth can lead to high spam report rates. Focusing the majority of your emails on advocates that have opened an email in the last 6-12 months will help reduce your spam report rates.
  • Run an Opt-in Campaign. It’s risky to continue to send to advocates who joined your email program long ago but aren’t engaging with your emails. Send an email to any advocate that hasn’t engaged with your emails in the last 12 months asking them to opt into future emails. Any advocate who does not opt-in should be unsubscribed. This will help remove people who are a risk to your sending reputation.
  • Send More Targeted Emails. “All politics is local” and so is great email content. Focus on smaller email audiences and deliver relevant, local content. Instead of sending out a national newsletter, local updates are a much better alternative. We’ve seen clients use this strategy to great effect to reduce spam rates and improve overall inbox placement.

Any discussion of spam reporting must also include Spam Traps. These are unused email addresses that email service providers and third-party security companies set up to identify spammers. Because these email addresses are inactive, you should not be sending new emails to them. If you’re triggering spam traps, email providers may start placing your emails in the spam folder or block them altogether.

It’s important to realize that spam traps are an indicator of problematic email practices. Therefore, you should address the source of the problem first. It is possible (albeit difficult) to remove a spam trap from your email audience, but identifying how the trap wound up on your list should be your first priority. There are two main types of spam traps and, depending on the type of trap you are hitting, your best response will vary.

Recycled Spam Traps are retired email addresses that were once used by someone, but are now abandoned. These are the most common type of trap because they are a symptom of insufficient list maintenance rather than ill-advised email collection. Users hitting this type of trap should consider opting-out old and unengaged advocates from their list.

Pristine Spam Traps are email addresses that were created and intentionally added to websites to track web scrapers and list purchasers. These addresses are punished more severely by email providers. Users that hit a Pristine Spam Trap need to evaluate their
email acquisition methods and the sources of their existing list. You may need to do some internal investigation into where the different  parts of your email list were obtained and consult an expert on how to proceed.

Because repeatedly hitting a spam trap can quickly damage your sending reputation, we recommend pausing your email program until you have a plan to address the problem. Check your list to ensure that all old addresses, bounces and unsubscribes were removed in the last migration and that all addresses came from legitimate (preferably organic) sources. If you must continue sending emails, we recommend sending to smaller, targeted audiences.

Overall, email is a primary channel at most advocacy organizations and it is important to protect it. There is some indication that advocacy organizations understand that email programs require more care and that they are taking steps in that direction.

Part of that is implementing better procedures. Maintaining lists and proper practices may not be great party conversation, but it is a solid strategy. It yields real, measurable results.

Cleaning and maintaining your list almost always brings about higher open and click rates, which in turn lays the foundation for increased conversion. In short, it yields better metrics and higher engagement—and that’s something we all like to talk about.