Measuring email marketing deliverability

Email marketing vendors often boast that their infrastructure and ISP relations teams lead to high deliverability. While it is true that any ESP is likely to significantly beat a company’s in-house solution, it becomes more difficult when trying to compare one ESP’s deliverability to another.

email_deliverability

When you are evaluating email vendors, I highly recommend starting by subscribing to their respective newsletters via multiple email addresses (Gmail, Yahoo!, corporate account, etc.). Then tote whether or not the messages are delivered to your inbox in major email clients. This would seem to be an obvious test but many buyers simply rely on reputation rather than experimentation when making a decision.

Measuring the Sender Score of the Vendors

Return Path, who operates the largest email accreditation service, Sender Score Certified, rates IP addresses by giving them sender scores. The score is made up of several different factors such as SPAM complaints, sending volume, amount of mail sent to unknown addresses. and the IP’s DNS settings. Anything lower than 70 should be avoided. Ideally you want to see something that is 80 or higher.

To find the IP address of the mail server for an email you receive, you will need to see the message’s original headers.

In Gmail for example, click on the downward arrow on the top right of an email. Then select “Show Original” to see the message’s headers. You can then see the IP address of the sender and check it here. You will be surprised by how many low scores you will find. You can do this in a similar manner with Yahoo! Mail and other major email clients.

Checking Email Authentication

The header also gives you other useful information such as whether or not the emails pass various types of authentication. ISPs and corporate filters use some or all of the four major authentication frameworks to help classify email. Most email clients will allow you to check your incoming emails to see if they are authenticated. Gmail for example will tell you whether or not the email passes SPF and DKIM authentication. Simply do a find for “DKIM” when viewing the header. The more levels of authentication your ESP uses, the better the deliverability is likely to be.

There is of course a lot more than deliverability that goes into an email service provider evaluation (feature set, ease of use, services component, etc.) but this should at least give buyers an objective to way measure one of the more esoteric aspects of email marketing.

Reputation Monitoring with Twitter

Like blogging before it, Twitter has pushed us even further into an era of an unprecedented for reputation monitoring. Never had it been so easy for an anonymous writer to either help or harm a brand with comments, well-founded or not.

One tool that I have blogged about before makes reputation monitoring on Twitter extremely easy. TweetDeck is a slick Adobe Air app that sits on your desktop and notfies you of Tweets as they come in. Set up a column that is essentially a search for your company’s (or product’s) name and will give you a little buzz anytime something comes in. This is a tremendous way to find out what people think about your customer service, what companies are evaluating your solutions, etc. If you have not done this before, you will probably find that there is quite a bit more chatter than you may have expected.

TweetDeck

TweetDeck

If you do see something about your brand, definitely feel free to join the conversation. If someone says something negative, address it, offer to point them to support, etc. If someone says something positive, thank them for it. It encourages your clients and prospects to continue the conversation, which is definitely something that you want for your brand.

Google Alerts are important for less time sensistive monitoring but so far nothing beats Twitter when it comes to stream of consciousness monitoring.

Is your vendor bleeding your page rank?

Just a word of warning to marketers: I have seen a distubring resurgence of SEO black hat chicanery by agencies and software vendors that I thought died out a few days ago. In the past week I have seen websites where either a design firm or a web analytics company put a hidden link back to its home page on each and ever single one of its clients’ pages. 

There are a couple of reasons why companies should be wary of this: 

  • Links out to third party sites send page rink (i.e. “link juice”) to other sites. This is fine when you intend to link somewhere, but less so when every one of your pages has a hidden outbound link. 
  •  Google warns not to do anything with your site that is explicitly meant for bots or to try to game page rank. Hidden links in noscript tags certainly fall into this category. 
  • If you vendor is doing this, what else are they doing that you should know about. I’d head for the door at the first sign of this sort of practice.

Not all web analytics code is created equal. Be sure to take a look at it and understand what it means. If there is a link to your agency or vendor’s homepage buried into it somewhere (especially with alt text in it) there is like no reason for it other than to game the search engines. 

Granted in the recent cases I saw, this was done by smaller vendors, perhaps looking to get a leg up on their competitors in the SEO game, but I have to believe that black hat tricks like this will ultimately penalize them.

Marketing in the Cloud is Doing Just Fine

Quite a big deal was made recently about salesforce.com’s 38 minute outage last week. I have to say I agree with Paul Greenberg, when he said calling “the cloud into question because their servers were down for 38 minutes is a little bit of an emotional overload.” 

People are quick to blame the cloud when there is more than a few minutes of downtime, calling its reliability into question. What most people do not consider is that internally hosting an application does not give any better guarantee of uptime. For many businesses it probably increases the liklihood of an outage. At most companies that I have worked for the Internet, VOIP phones, apps hosted on internal servers, and other services had outages at least a few times a year. Human error, catastrophic failures, and acts of nature can strike even the most ironclad systems. In the grand scheme of things, 38 minutes for salesforce.com to get everything back up is pretty impressive. It is also great they put up an explanation on trust.salesforce.com, which is not something that most vendors would do.

On a personal level, I just recently moved this blog from the installed version of WordPress to the hosted version. Why on earth would I want to spend time installing security patches, managing the hosting for it, or any of the other headaches of installed software. WordPress.com of course has expertise in managing its own software. I also use a SaaS CRM, marketing automation platform, project management tool, and community management system.

Top 5 Ways to Keep Your B2B Web Lead Data Clean

Ardath Albee wrote that you can lift revenues 70% by cleaning up dirty prospect data. I don’t think we need much more of an incentive than that to start keeping our data clean.

CRM systems do many things extremely well. Deduplication of lead/prospect data, however, does not often seem to be one of them. The following are my four favorite things you can do to keep your CRM clean (at least in terms of the leads that come in from your site):

1. Automatic deduplication at the web form level — the same person filling out the form multiple times only creates one lead/prospect (but you still capture the activity).

2. Data validation at the form level — at the minimum, ensure that email addresses are in a valid format (blank@site.com, etc.). Even better is setting up your form to ping the domain in real-time and ensure that it has an actual mail exchange record. The latter method prevents people from entering things like abcdef@abcdef.com (which would pass the first test). At my company we take this one step further and actually do not accept free/ISP email addresses. We do not want our sales reps following up with Yahoo! or Gmail addresses.

If the visitor’s email address fails validation, be sure to provide a soft error (see below) message as soon as they tab off of the field as opposed to having them click the submit button, only to be surprised by a glaring error notification. 

Soft error message.

(soft error example)

3. Limiting choices via drop downs instead of free-form text — this makes fields like industry, job title, etc. much more usable later as you will not get permutations of the same title (e.g. VP, Vice President, etc.). This also makes things easier for the visitor as he or she can typically fill the form out faster than with free text fields. 

Predefined Field Values = Better Data

Predefined Field Values = Better Data

4. Keep bots away with built in spam prevention. If left unchecked, bots can quickly fill a company’s database with gibberish. Many companies (including Google) do this via captchas (an additional field where you enter a string of text or a number to prove that you are indeed a human). I prefer to instead use a hidden spam trap that humans never need to see or deal with. Captchas, while effective in term of spam prevention, can frustrate visitors and drive down your conversion rate.

So how do you do all of this?

Each of the techniques above can be accomplished with either some custom programming or via a marketing automation solution. Either way, the technology is out there and it will make your life easier and your data cleaner.

B2B Marketing Lessons from the King

Are you a Big Mac or a Whopper?

McDonald’s has long been lauded for its scientific approach to determining optimal real estate for new store locations. For a time Burger King engaged in an arms race of sorts, competing with the better-financed Golden Arches for the best new opening possibilities. Burger King later shifted strategy and started to simply wait for McDonald’s to open new stores first. The King would then quickly follow suit, constructing a new store within a few blocks. This tactic negated many of the real estate analysis advantages that McDonald’s once enjoyed and shifted the battle to product and customer experience.

Take a look around the next time you go to a BK. You’ll probably see a McDonald’s just down the street.

whopper-big-mac

So how does this apply to you as a B2B marketer?

If you are not the top dog in your market, mimicking BK’s strategy may be a good approach when determining where to spend your marketing dollars. A good technique is to take your savviest (though not necessarily your biggest) competitor, and watch very carefully how and where they are spending their marketing dollars. Let them make their marketing investments, ad places, and trade show bookings. They will no doubt be spending some of their dollars evaluating which media are effective. See what sticks and copy their approach. Are they focusing on certain keywords for SEO/SEM, sponsoring certain sites or newsletters, or attending key trade show? That is like market research that you are getting for free.

Be sure to set up Google Alerts for your competitor’s company and product names (I’ll write more on using Google Alerts in a future post) to get a head’s up when they post on sites, issue press releases, add to their blog, etc.

It is not a hard and fast rule, but chances are if the savviest (until you take that title away) marketer in your space is consistently putting dollars into something, it is worth being there as well.

B2B Marketing Strategy from "The King"

B2B Marketing Strategy from "The King"

Google Is a Harsh Mistress

SEM is immediate and SEO is gradual right? That’s what I used to think. I’ve been spending the last month really optimizing our site for a specific keyword, expecting the return on the time investment to pay off 6-12 months down the road. I was quite surprised to see today that we were in fact listed on Google’s first page — an improvement from page three just a month or so ago.

Sure enough, four hours later, we were on page two. It was fun while it lasted. 

It is amazing how easy it is to become oddly obsessed with Google’s results for your industry keyword(s). When you launch your corporate site, you are happy to rank anywhere. Then you aim for the first page. Then you shoot to be in the first five results. When will I start getting some sleep?

The experience described above does tell me that we are on the right track though. I have been using a few very good SEO resources that I would recommend:

SEOmoz Blog

The SEOmozBlog posts meaningful SEO tips every few days. It is quite widely read and the comments after each post can be insightful as well. I also follow them on Twitter @SEOmoz

HubSpot Blog

The HubSpot Blog provides great thought leadership for SMB marketing. HubSpot demystifies SEO and social media for smaller companies. I follow HubSpot on Twitter @HubSpot

Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools is vital for anyone serious about mainting good SEO practices on his or her site. You can see which, if any of your pages, have duplicate content and which Google has trouble indexing. Combining this with 301 redirects and custom 404 pages really helps change the way visitors and search engines see your website.