Affiliate Marketing Tools

Ghosts of Past Email Signups Driving Down Inbox Placement

By Katherine Beaumont

Promotional offers, discounts, and coupons are enticing carrots for subscribers, and can drive high sign up rates with the promise of a ‘good deal.’ But what happens if that incentive is the only reason a subscriber signs up for your messaging? And worse yet, what if that individual is using a “ghost” email account reserved exclusively for such promos? The chances would then be good that the user never intends to engage with your content again.

Ghost of a Chance

“Ghosting” is an issue affecting more and more marketers as users opt into brand communications only to disappear from engagement metrics after an offer is claimed. Recently, a report by the U.K.-based Direct Marketing Association (DMA) shed significant insight into this phenomenon and the email practices of everyday subscribers. It found that among those surveyed, “almost half (45%) of consumers [admitted to having] ‘ghost’ [email] accounts that are active but no longer used.”

When applied to the whole, this would translate to at least 19.5 million ghost accounts in the UK alone. The same study also corroborated the fact that the top reason consumers share their email with a brand is to receive money off discounts. It’s not hard to see an emerging pattern in consumer behavior. Subscribers are increasingly dedicating a secondary email address to process their promotional sign ups, in order to receive benefits while avoiding future communications in their primary inbox.

As a result, you can bet a portion of your list fits the bill of only opting in to receive an initial offer and going dormant. The question then becomes, how do you keep this portion of your audience from dragging down your reputation? Because if left unchecked, the negative engagement metrics of these “ghost” users will impact your sender reputation in the eyes of ISPs.

And if reputation dips low enough, it will even prevent active subscribers in your list from receiving your content in their inboxes. This is why it is essential that all marketers have a strategy to quickly identify this segment of the audience, and remove them before any damage is done.

Targeting Unengaged Users

“Ghost” accounts will not provide any open or click data for you to segment off of. Applying standard open/click engagement criteria on all of the campaigns that you launch (i.e., only mailing to those who have opened or clicked a campaign within the last ‘x’ months) will easily ensure your contacts are valid, active, and up-to-date. Any address that does not fit these criteria (including “ghosts” who never re-engaged in the first place) will be eliminated. As a best practice, this engagement-based segmentation should always be applied to campaigns.

Re-Engage Lapsed Users, and Adjust Volume

And yet just eliminating sending to users who do not open and/or click is not enough. Eventually inactive accounts can become invalidated or even converted to spam traps by ISPs. It is a critical component of list hygiene that these users are also eventually removed from your contacts list entirely. When a customer lapses (i.e., does not open or click for ‘x’ months) you can deploy a re-engagement campaign to gauge their interest and entice them back to your active user base.

However, subscribers who still do not engage at this point should be sent mail less often—weekly instead of daily, monthly instead of weekly, etc. This removes the likelihood of flooding subscribers with content that they have demonstrated they do not wish to engage with—even when presented with the opportunity to do so. It also greatly reduces the volume of mail you are likely to send to any “ghosts” on your list.

Re-Permission and Remove

But eventually you need to pull the trigger and delete inactive users from your list. If re-engagement campaigns and reduced volume of sending does not entice a subscriber to return, you can offer one last pass for an opt-in via a re-permission campaign. This type of campaign confirms that the user wishes to stay subscribed, and requires an action on their part to do so. If they click to confirm, they can remain opted in. If they do not, the address should be removed and no longer contacted.

Modern Marketers must orchestrate and deliver marketing messages that are relevant to individual preferences and behavior. Getting email delivered to the inbox is critical to this process.

Download Email Deliverability: Guide for Modern Marketers to find out how to achieve email deliverability that really delivers.

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