Analysis of Inbox Placement Based on Return Path’s Consumer Network Data
In our 2016 Deliverability Benchmark, we reviewed worldwide inbox placement rates as shown through our seed data. In this companion piece, we will examine a different source of data: the Return Path Consumer Network.
Consumer Network data is different from seed data in that the data is generated from real email accounts that are actively owned and managed by real subscribers at AOL, Gmail, Outlook.com, and Yahoo. Through our Consumer Network, we are able to gather real world data and real world email behaviors from over 2 million email accounts. In addition to seeing whether an email lands in the inbox or spam folder, we also get visibility into whether people read the email, report it as spam, forward it, move it out of the spam folder, and many other hidden user behaviors.
As mailbox providers begin to increase their focus on subscriber engagement in their filtering decisions, Consumer Network data provides deeper insight into how an overall email program and individual campaigns resonate with subscribers—and how that might affect deliverability going forward.
As our Consumer Network data only covers the top four mailbox providers through their APIs and does not account for missing or blocked email, the numbers reported below will vary from the seed numbers reported in the 2016 Deliverability Benchmark.
As spammers become more sophisticated, mailbox providers are beginning to rely on engagement signals to help identify which content is truly wanted by their users. This allows them to remove unwanted—and potentially unsolicited—email and only deliver messages their users engage with to the inbox.
Our Consumer Network data provides a snapshot not only of subscribers inboxes, but also provides insight into what type of subscriber they are, and how their level of engagement impacts how email is delivered.
For this study, we categorized mailboxes into three different types: high, medium, and low.
This year, actively engaged users saw eight percent more messages delivered to their inboxes, while mailbox providers delivered five percent fewer messages to less active users.
High engagement: +8%
Medium engagement: 0
Low engagement: -5%
While performing better than the global average, United States marketers witnessed their average inbox placement rate (88 percent) decline throughout the year. From a peak of 89 percent in the second and third quarters in 2015, United States marketers saw inbox placement rates drop to 85 percent in the second quarter of 2016.
Retail and Travel industries achieved inbox placement rates above the global average of 87 percent. Household & Home, Travel, Apparel, Banking & Finance, and Computers & Electronics brands all had an average inbox placement rate over 90 percent.
Missing the inbox at a rate well above the global average, Automotive, Technology/Software/Internet, Insurance, Business Services, and Social & Dating brands saw average inbox placement below 80 percent—meaning more than one in five messages sent by brands in these industries missed the inbox.
Taking a closer look at the breakdown by quarter, it’s surprising to note that most of the industries with high inbox placement for the entire period experienced a drop in deliverability in Q2 2016 compared to the same period in 2015. The top performers—Apparel, Household & Home, Travel, and Computers & Electronics—saw decreases between five and nine percent An additional surprising result is that the majority of industries that performed well below the global average—Technology/Software/Internet, Insurance, and Business Services—saw an increase between seven and 14 percent over this same period.
Engagement is becoming increasingly important in the battle to reach the inbox. Going forward, increasing subscriber engagement, quickly reacting to negative subscriber actions, and reengaging or removing unengaged subscribers will be essential to protecting and increasing your deliverability.
Increase subscriber engagement
The first step towards increasing your subscriber engagement is to ensure you are tracking the right engagement metrics (e.g., read rate, “this is not spam” rate, etc.) and that you understand what your your metrics are telling you. Make sure you are tracking the results of each campaign you send and are comparing your results to past campaigns as well as the benchmark in your industry.
Understand and react to negative engagement
Marketers need to react immediately to negative subscriber action to prevent them from severely impacting their program. Negative engagements like spam complaints, delete without reading, and unsubscribes are not only indications of subscriber dissatisfaction, but also potentially harmful to your program. In fact, marketers who have a spam rate over 0.1 percent will experience a diminished sending reputation resulting in lower inbox placement. Make sure your program has feedback loops in place to respond quickly to spam complaints and read A Marketer’s Guide to Subscriber Complaints for an in-depth look into why subscribers complain at different points in the customer journey.
Manage unengaged subscribers
Not every subscriber wants an active relationship with your brand—and that’s their choice. But keeping unengaged subscribers on your list has the potential to severely damage your sender reputation and your deliverability. An unengaged subscriber can be one of three things—inactive subscribers, spam traps, or unknown users—all of which are damaging to sender reputation. Marketers should routinely send re-engagement emails to any email address that has been engaged for over a year. This will allow you to identify which subscribers are still interested in your content and remove the subscribers that are uninterested or are spam traps and unknown users in disguise.
Return Path conducted this study using a representative sample of more than 2.5 billion promotional email messages sent to consumers around the world between April 2015 and June 2016. Global and regional statistics are based on performance in Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, and AOL mailboxes in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific regions. Country and industry specific statistics are based on a subset of senders whose locations and industry classifications are identifiable.
Return Path Consumer Network data is captured from monitored email accounts controlled by real subscribers to sample user-initiated and engagement based filtering decisions by mailbox providers. Consumer data can uncover behavior-based factors and thresholds that influence inbox placement at large mailbox providers, and can’t be identified by non-interactive seeds.