Best Practices For Bulk Email Sending
Contrary to popular belief, email’s not dead. It’s bigger than ever: Companies sent 40.6 billion more emails in 2020 than the previous year, signaling that brands and customers alike are turning to digital marketing to fill their events, sell their products and more.
So by using BigMarker’s automated email suite, you can activate your digital audience and mobilize them to attend your event. But when you’re sending emails to thousands of recipients at once, you need to ensure that your deliverability and sending reputation are good enough that your messages actually reach their inboxes.
Otherwise, your emails will hit your recipients’ spam boxes and, in the likely event that your recipients don’t fish your email out of that folder, email servers will continue to mark your company’s messages as spam, leading a negative self-reinforcing cycle that will wreak havoc on your marketing initiatives.
But, good news! As the sender, you have the most control over your messages' deliverability, and this guide will give you the advice you need to follow legal and business guidelines, maximize your message’s deliverability and showcase your work in the best light possible.
Note: This guide is adapted from Postmark’s guide for broadcast sending.
Educate Yourself on Consumer Privacy Regulations
Consumers are more protective of their digital privacy than ever (read: 40.6 billion new emails sent last year). In response, legislators have created state, national and international regulations exist to safeguard consumers and their data, which has implications for your email marketing content and strategy.
These regulations include, but are not limited to, the CAN-SPAM Act in the US, the CASL Laws in Canada, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations of 2003 in the UK and the comprehensive General Data Protection Regulation, which is applicable to all citizens of the EU.
Pay attention to that phrasing: If you are sending any emails to any recipients who are citizens of the EU, your emails need to meet the higher privacy standards of the GDPR.
Violators can be charged up to 10 million euros or 2 percent of the company’s overall of the preceding fiscal year, whichever is higher, so we recommend that you follow the GDPR’s policies unless you are absolutely certain you will not host any guests who hold citizenship in the EU. (Here’s how to collect consent with GDPR forms in registration forms and emails on BigMarker.)
Obtain Enthusiastic Consent From Recipients
Nobody likes getting emails they don’t remember signing up for, or downloading an eBook and then receiving 20 nurture emails they didn’t consent to get.
Requiring users to submit an email address before accessing certain content—or hiding email sign-up language in your Terms of Service—may net you subscribers in the short-term. But if you don’t obtain clear, enthusiastic consent to send emails to these users, they will mark your messages as spam or unsubscribe en masse.
This will harm your sender score, the rating that email servers use to decide what to do with your email. The lower your score, the more likely your email will be sent to users’ spam or promotional folders, where readers are way less likely to see it, much less open it.
Many factors can impact your email’s deliverability, but your reputation is the most important one: According to ReturnPath, 83% of the time an email is not delivered to an inbox, it is due to a poor sender reputation.
So getting explicit information to send your list an email is the most important thing you can do to safeguard your sender reputation.
We recommend providing users a checkbox that is unchecked by default, so they can proactively opt into future messages when they sign up.
Note: Add GDPR-compliant fields to your registration form and email opt-in message if you are hosting citizens of the European Union.
Don’t Buy Lists
...ever. List sellers prioritize maximizing their list size over giving you quality contacts, so purchased lists won’t yield a meaningful increase in engagement to justify the legal and business risks you’re taking on by using falsely obtained lists.
That’s because using free, “inherited” or purchased email lists violates the GDPR, which can cost your company hundreds of dollars per email address.
Just don’t do it.
Maximize Your Sender Reputation
Check your sender score: Since your deliverability will contribute to the success of your email marketing campaigns, evaluate your sending reputation before you create another campaign—and risk hurting your sending score more. Fortunately, you can see where you stand in minutes with SenderScore.org, a free email reputation evaluation service from Return Path by Validity.
If you need to improve your reputation, use Postmark’s deliverability troubleshooting guide to diagnose and resolve any outcoming issues before investing in a big email campaign.
Authenticate your messages with DKIM, SPF, and DMARC: Start by authenticating the messages that you'll be sending through BigMarker by obtaining DKIM and SPF authentication.
Sending from a DKIM authenticated domain is industry-standard. This establishes your credibility as a sender and increases your chances of actually reaching inboxes. DKIM authentication essentially “tells” your recipient's mail server that you've given BigMarker your permission to send out messages on your behalf, and that the message wasn't altered in transit. (Learn more about DKIM and its importance here.)
Once you authenticate your domain, regulate it with DMARC, which limits who can send "from" your domain to help prevent spoofing attempts that directly affect your domain's reputation. Learn more about DMARC with Postmark’s guide to DMARC or Google’s documentation on DMARC.
According to Postmark, authentication does three things to protect your reputation as a sender:
- “[It] allows the sender to take responsibility for their messages and sending practices, which
- Builds a reputation of trust for the individual sender, and therefore
- Gives receivers consistent identifiers to automatically improve and stabilize deliverability for you.”
Use a specific subdomain For broadcast sending: Specific subdomains each have their own sending reputations, separate from their parent domain.
In English, this means that if you’re experiencing deliverability issues with your automated emails, this won’t impact the deliverability of your other emails… as long as they’re in separate subdomains.
Sender email handle and name: As spam calls have gotten prevalent, people have begun ignoring all phone calls from numbers they don’t recognize. Because of phishing and malware, many people treat email the same way. They won’t open your email unless they know the sender name
From there, stay consistent. If your open and click through rates are high enough, don't change your message's FROM name and email address. This way, your sending email address will gain trust among servers and your users won’t have to add another address to their contact list.
Don’t send emails from no-reply addresses: No-reply emails are no good. They establish the tone that you don’t want to hear from your users, even or especially if they’re having problems with your brand.
But Gmail and other providers actually prioritize incoming emails by the likeliness that recipients will respond to it. The more your recipients respond to your emails, the more likely Gmail and other providers will put them in users’ inbox folders v. the spam or promotion folders.
So using a no-reply address dramatically hurts your deliverability. It also violates CAN-SPAM, the American law regulating commercial email, which states:
"Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message."
The fix: Many senders use no-reply email addresses because they don’t anticipate answering your replies. In this case, at least set up an actual mailbox that is occasionally monitored.
Also take this advice from Postmark: “Thankfully, there are automated ways to handle responses, many of which don’t take much effort to set up. For example, forwarding replies to a Gmail account can be particularly effective, as not only does it handle spam particularly well (an unfortunate consequence of putting an email address out there), but you can set up filters/rules to keep human and robot responses apart, as well as create automated responses.”
Manage Your Lists
Focus on list quality over list quantity: Sender scores are determined primarily by engagement percentages, not flat numbers. This means that a small list of super-active subscribers is more strategically beneficial than a massive list of mostly unengaged ones. If email servers “see” you sending thousands of emails that almost never get opened or clicked on, they will punish you by lowering your sender score and sending your emails to your recipients’ spam boxes.
All those disengaged subscribers will leave your email sitting in spam, which communicates to the email servers that they were correct in judging your emails as spam, which further harms your deliverability. This creates a self-reinforcing cycle that can derail your marketing communications and cost you customers.
So it literally pays to keep your lists clean. Every three to six months, delete inactive subscribers (e.g., people who haven’t opened an email). Move rarely engaged subscribers (i.e.., they open emails once a quarter) to another list that receives emails less frequently to protect your deliverability without sacrificing subscribers.
Avoid sending to bad email addresses: If you trick or treated as a kid, you knew that to maximize your Candy Per Hour ratio, you couldn’t waste time knocking on doors that wouldn’t open: the one with the lights out, the one with the cranky seniors, the one that gave out toothbrushes last year, etc.
The same goes for your emails: Don’t send to email addresses that are likely to cause bounces. This includes typo-ridden addresses, as well as role addresses (such as marketing@, jobs@), which automatically send your message to a group of recipients.
Role addresses in particular can hurt your sender score, because most people who are included in a role address will not have opted to receive your messages and won’t respond to it.
(Pro tip: Add validation scripts to your sign up forms to deny role addresses and/or personal addresses if desired.)
Segment your lists to maximize engagement: Another great way to keep your subscriber number and sender score high? Tell people what they want to hear, and only what they want to hear.
Segmentation is the best way to do this. Organize your subscribers into different lists, based on factors like location, demographic, previous event attendance, specific interests, how many messages they'd like to receive weekly/monthly, and more. By segmenting, you can send more specific, relevant messages to groups of recipients who are more likely to open, engage and click on those emails.
Use subscription confirmation pages to improve deliverability and inform segmentation: After subscribing to your list, recipients will be led to a subscription confirmation page that lets them know they’ll start receiving emails from you.
Use this page to your list’s advantage. Don’t just tell your recipients they’re registered. Let them know what email address they can expect to see in their inbox and encourage them to add that address to their own contact list. This “tells” the recipient’s email server that the recipients want to read your email, which increases the chances that you’ll reach that person’s inbox.
You can use this list to create segments within your audience. Create a form on which recipients can opt-in and out of receiving emails on specific topics, then use that data to segment them into related lists.
Craft Messages That Convert
You’ve spent a lot of time making sure your emails hit people’s inboxes. Now seal the deal by creating emails that convert.
Personalize your subject line/message: Who wants to read another email from “The Team at Company X?”Use a real name in your sender line (i.e., Kathleen at BigMarker vs. The Team at BigMarker) to further emphasize the people behind your company.
In your copy, address each recipient by name using tokens, text codes that are provided in the BigMarker email builder.
Better yet, segment your invitee list by interest and engagement level for even more fine-tuned targeting and thus, higher open rates.
Use subject lines that do what they say: Short, action-oriented subject lines result in more opens. Think “Register Today: [Event Name]” vs. “Want to learn more about X, Y, Z? Then sign up!” Your main objective is to tell people what to expect, and only what they expect.
Use preview text: Even genius copywriters can’t convey a ton of value in 6-10 words. So support your subject line’s promise of value with your preview text. Here, you can provide more information on your speakers’ credentials and the takeaways attendees can anticipate from your event.
Create clear, concise copy: Your copy functions solely to move guests closer to that registration button. So start by stating the purpose of your event, i.e., the pain point you're hoping to help them solve.) Then tell them how your event will support that purpose: include a few of your biggest speakers and their presentation topics. Add some personality that fits your brand, add line breaks between sentences, tell them to register now and call it a day.
Get Clicks by Spotlighting Your CTA Button: High open rates are great, but in a business email, it’s all about the clicks. You need people to open your email, scan through the copy and design to click your registration button, so that they can register for your event and maximize your ROI. This means that everything in your message, from the copy to the design and UX, needs to guide the user toward the call to action (CTA) button.
Both on the CTA button and immediately before it, use engaging and catchy language that paints a picture of the concrete benefit that the free trial, product, or event will provide to users.
Also design your CTA in way that makes it the visual focal point of your message. Give it a color that pops against the background: If your email has a white background and black text, use a red or lime green button—something that’s easy to find in one skim.
CTAs should also guide your email content strategy. Only send your users an email if you can direct your users to make a concrete action (registering for an event, buying a purchase, scheduling a demo, etc).
Check your code: Imagine opening a best-selling novel, only to find that the text is curving all over the page and printing on top of one another in an unreadable mess. Broken HTML wreaks similar havoc on your email, which can tank your engagement and hurt your chances at earning conversions. Broken links and images can also negatively impact your sender rating, so use an HTML validation tool to spot any improper coding before you send.
And we’ll say it later, but it doesn’t hurt repeating (and repeating, and repeating again): Send yourself a test email to make sure your email’s structured the way that is supposed to be.
Make It Easy to Unsubscribe
We’ve all had to squint and use the CTRL-F function to try to unsubscribe from emails, and we can all agree that it’s the worst. It also makes the sender look unprofessional at best and spammy at worst.
We get it: You’re doing everything you can to keep people on your email list. But to maintain your deliverability score, you need to give people a transparent and visible way to unsubscribe from your emails. Otherwise, users will become annoyed and become more likely to mark your messages as spam. (If you love them, let them go, and all that.)
The easiest way to do is by including a one-click unsubscribe link on the footer of your email template. This way, your readers can scroll, click and unsubscribe, just like that.
Don’t make your readers confirm their unsubscription on a check-box-laden page or tell you why they’re leaving before letting them go. Make the unsubscribe link automatically unsubscribe them, then direct them to a confirmation page letting them know that they’re off your list. (On that page, you can include a resubscribe option and a text box for people to provide feedback.)
Note: Do not confirm an unsubscribe via another email. Responding to someone’s request to stop communicating with them with more communication will confuse them, and can make it appear that you’ll disregard their unsubscribe request.
Test, Test, Test For Success
You wouldn’t publish your new website without proofreading it, so don’t send an email without testing it first. Using your email server, send a test message to yourself.
That way, you can see how the subject line and preview text appears in your inbox. Is it too long? Too short? Are there any typos?
From there, review the message itself, both for content and design. Using this checklist, evaluate your email on the following:
- Are there any typos or grammatical errors?
- Does every link take the reader where they need to go?
- Is the CTA button prominently displayed? Can you find it in one skim?
- Is the email readable and compatible with every device?
- Is there enough space between each element (e.g. text boxes, images, etc.) of the message?
- Does the footer include clear, transparent unsubscribe text, as well as an automatic unsubscribe link?
A double-check should uncover most issues, but send another test to a coworker just to be safe.
Monitor and Evaluate Your Results
Using BigMarker’s email analytics suite, track the delivery, open and click-through rates of your emails. (Learn how to use BigMarker’s email suite here.)
Deliverability Rate: Watch out for bounce rates between 3 and 5 percent as this usually signals a deliverability problem (e.g., that your sender score is declining and your messages are more likely to be marked as spam). For more information on identifying and resolving deliverability issues, consult Oracle’s guide.
Open Rate: Open rate standards vary widely based on your industry, send time, the day of the week and more. But an open rate between 10-20% is typically considered average, with anything over 20 and 30 being excellent. To improve your open rate, try shortening or spicing up your subject lines, sending at a different time or day of the week, or personalizing your subject.
Click-through Rates: Your click-through rate will, by definition, be lower than the open rate. Like opens, click-throughs are heavily context-dependent, but anything between 1.5-3% is typically considered good. To get more click-throughs, consider making your button more brightly colored or prominent or reducing the amount of copy in your message.