Monday, January 27, 2014

Email Marketing & Gmail’s promotions tab – How to overcome it?

Recently Google has introduced three kinds of tabs in Gmail. These are Primary, Social & Promotions. The Primary tab contains all the important communications (Google fetches this data from your email history), Social tab contains all the mails which come from social media platforms and Promotions tab contains all the mails that you receive regarding product promotions, discounts, offers etc.

These tabs are a great feature from the user's perspective as it helps us to move from a cluttered inbox to a neat & clean interface. Even if we are receiving promotional emails in primary tabs, we can simply drag and drop such mails in promotional tab and Gmail will make sure that emails from this sender are landed in to promotional tabs from next time. Simple!

But, this feature has created a lot of problems for email marketers. Earlier all the mails were delivered in to the inbox which resulted into more open rates and hence more click through rates. But now all such mails are shifted to promotional tab so users might not even notice your email! So, how to overcome this situation? Following are the few ways which were tried and tested by me and have given me good results post this policy change.

1. Inform your customer about Gmail’s policy change

Since you have been rolling out email campaigns to your customers at regular intervals, it’s a good idea to inform them about this policy change, the best way is to send them an email describing how to move your email from promotion tab to primary tab by using the drag & drop feature of gmail. This action will make sure that all your future communications lands in customer’s primary tab and not the promotion tab.

2. Try to use new Domain and IP address

If it’s possible then you must change your IP address and the domain name from which all the campaigns are blasted as Gmail has already figured out that most of your communication is promotional based and hence your emails are being put into promotional tab. For example, if Flipcart is sending the emails from , they might change it to this might help them to put their emails in primary tabs for some time. If all other factors are also put into action this can result in great returns.

3.  Minimize the use of words like “free”, “offer”, “discount”, “hurry”

Gmail uses an algorithm to filter the promotions mail which includes Sender’s reputation score, SPF verification and also the Content. So if you are using too much of texts like buy now, get it free, last 2 days, huge discounts etc... Then Gmail might put that under promotions tab. So as a best practice minimize the usage of such words which might warn Gmail about the offer. However the email marketer should still be wary while using such words in subject line.

4.  Use pictures rather than texts

What if you can’t reduce the usage of offer texts? Well then best way is to use the image and display an offer in these images! We don’t have to worry about whether user will see the content or not as Gmail has already rolled out an update in which images are loaded automatically in user’s inbox!

We discussed about how various initiatives can help us to overcome the problems caused by new Gmail tabs but if we try to look more closely then we will realize that this is a good feature even for marketers as well as users. Now users know that all the promotional mails are in one tab so they know where to look for offers and discounts! Even if they plan to purchase something later they will surely tinker a little with this tab to find the best offer from the service providers.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid in Email Marketing

First of all, I couldn’t believe that I would be writing my second blog so soon. Believe me, I have tried this couple of times in the past and all I could do was write one blog and forget it for next one year. Let’s see how long am I gonna continue with this one. J

Now back to the topic, today we will talk about 5 common mistakes that an email marketer makes while rolling out the email campaigns. We will not go into the details about content part as it will be a different discussion altogether. (But we will cover that in my upcoming blogs!) We will talk about simple but important parameters that should be considered while sending out a campaign. We will also look at the email campaigns of companies like Bookmyshow, Inox, National geographic, ICICI bank and ICICI Lombard. So let’s get started! Point number 1 is...

1.Use of Proper links in CTA (Call-to-Action)
When we send an email to our prospects, we expect them to take certain action; it could be filling up a lead/enquiry form, sharing our email on social media platforms, to book a ticket or something else.  Now in order to make our customer take these actions we must help them to navigate with proper links. For example if we want our customer to fill up a lead form then we must have a link saying “enquire now” or “know more”. When a user clicks on that particular link he/she should be redirected to a proper landing page where in they can fill up the details like name, contact number, city etc...  we should avoid using generic links like our website’s homepage! 

Let’s try to understand this with the help of a live example from entertainment industry. Since I am a movie buff, I have subscribed myself to the newsletters of the two giants in online ticketing industry – Bookmyshow and Inox. First of all let me show you what I received from Inox.

email marketing mistakes

This is a simple mailer informing me about the upcoming movies. For Inox, the desirable action from customer/me would be to book the tickets but when I tried to click on the image of “Sholay” poster I landed on the Inox homepage which is slightly complex and I had to find my way to book the ticket for “Sholay” by going through various links (approx 10).

Now let’s see how bookmyshow is doing this. I received following email from them, 

email marketing mistakes

Quite similar to what Inox had sent but, when I clicked on the image of “sholay” I landed directly on the show timings page! All I had to do was to select the show and book the ticket. So bookmyshow helped me to reduce my set of steps from approx 10 to 5, I still booked the show in Inox theatre as they have got awesome sound quality but I used bookmyshow’s platform!
One more point to be noted in here is that Inox is not doing something wrong (I mean you can book the tickets from their homepage) but the user experience is much simpler in bookmyshow case.

      2.Proper Identity of sender –Domain name
Whenever we receive an email, we expect that sender of the email is legitimate. We don’t want some spammer to send us any promotional campaigns or we would not like to get trapped in some spoofing activity. Now how do we make sure that sender is genuine? This can be done by checking the domain name of the sender. Let’s try to understand this with the help of an example. I had received the following email from the national geographic.

email marketing mistakes
National Geographic

Now there is nothing wrong with the content but when I tried to find the sender of the emailer, it was some random third party (marked in red box). My first action was to unsubscribe myself from this list. I don’t have any problem if National Geographic is sending me emails but I do have problem with such random third parties who are completely alien to me. This could have been corrected while sending the campaign by altering the sender’s name and identity. So even though content was right it sends a wrong impression in customer’s mind that companies like National geography is using such irrelevant vendors to roll out their campaigns.  

3.SPF and DKIM entry
As we discussed in my last blog that most of the deliverability issues are caused by incorrect or missing SPF and DKIM entry. Each and every email marketer must take this in to consideration before rolling out any of the campaigns.

4.Proper sender’s (reply to) email id
There are many occasions where in we receive an email from a company about some offers & services and we have some doubts about it. So best practice would be to directly reply on that email id (I mean that’s exactly what we do when we receive an email from someone!). But still brands like ICICI are not doing this properly. For example I received the following email from the ICICI bank.

email marketing mistakes

I was interested in the content but I had few queries so I thought to directly reply on that email. When I clicked on reply button, I saw this!

email marketing mistakes

Now who the hell is this guy and why the hell is he sending me such emails? Later I had to visit their website, called customer executive and it took me a while to clarify my doubts but had a bad email experience. So to avoid confusion and facilitate better customer service an email marketer must use valid and proper reply to email address.

5.Sender’s IP Score/Reputation – this is BIG!
IP (Internet Protocol) is an identifier for a computer or device on a network. When an email marketer rolls out the campaign they send it from some specific set of IP addresses which works as their identity in Internet space.  All the ESP (Email service providers) and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) monitors the activity of various IPs all the time and basis which they score them. 

So it’s very important to monitor the score and reputation of your IPs. If your score is below 75 (out of 100) your emails might get flagged as spam.  There are many factors which are considered while measuring the reputation. Few of the important ones are
  •         SPF and DKIM verification
  •         Email volumes
  •         Frequency at which  emails are sent
  •        Spam reports by users and others

Let’s quickly look at the IP reputation and score of ICICI Lombard.

email marketing mistakes
ICICI Lombard

Now if you will look closely, the first three IPS are safe in terms of SPF verification but rest all are under the scanner. Also the score of three of its IP (marked in RED) is below 20! So, all the emails that are being sent from this IPs will definitely land in junk folder. An email marketer must monitor this scores on a regular interval else we might end up sending a successful campaign but we may not get the desired results.

Do share your feedback! We will talk about the content part for email marketing in my next blog. Till then take care and happy reading!

Follow me on Twitter @mahinindia

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Deliverability issues in email marketing

“Even a Billion Dollar scheme is of no use if your email doesn’t land up in the prospect’s inbox”
Yes, that’s true! No matter how effectively we have strategized the offer, no matter how effective is our creativity and content, it holds no stand if we don’t cross the barrier of various filters that are being placed by the ESPs (Email service providers) and the ISPs (Internet service providers). In this blog we will take a closer look at how an email travels from the sender to receiver’s inbox.

What is Deliverability in email marketing?
In simple terms, deliverability means the successful reach/landing/delivery of your email in customer’s inbox. The point or word to be noted in here is “inbox”, the email should get delivered in the inbox and not the spam or junk folder as nobody cares or reads an email that lands up in spam folders (Only ESP monitors it and deletes the content at regular intervals from junk folders).

How an email travels on Internet?

Email Deliverability check
Email Architecture

Step 1
As soon as user hits the submit button, the email is sent from the sender’s inbox via SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol). This protocol is responsible for the sending part and the receiving part is managed by IMAP or POP3.

Step 2
ESPs check for SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (Domain Key Indentified Mail).  SPF is responsible to prevent email spoofing & Spam by verifying the IP address of the sender. SPF allows administrators to specify which hosts are allowed to send mail from a given domain by creating a specific SPF record (or TXT record) in the Domain Name System (DNS).

For example, if Flipkart is sending an email via then Flipkart needs to have SPF verification code embedded on  if the SPF code is absent then ESPs may flag an alert for emails originating from this domain as a spam. DKIM is similar verification process for Domains.

Step 3
Once the ESPs validate the SPF and DKIM of an email, it gets delivered safely in to the inbox of the recipient. If the email fails on this verification then it might land up in the Junk or Spam folder.

How to check the SPF and DKIM in an Email?

Step 1
Click on the “Show original” link in your Gmail inbox.

Email Deliverability check
SPF and DKIM Check - 1

Step 2
Search for Received – SPF: pass and dkim=pass. 

Email Deliverability check
SPF and DKIM Check - 2

If both of the above records are present then you have no reason to worry about the deliverability issues from technical perspective; however there are other issues/concerns which an email marketer faces. We will discuss about them in my next blog. Till then take care and happy new year!