Five Steps to Optimizing for Engagement

One of the toughest challenges in deliverability is producing content that recipients are likely to find engaging, and to do it consistently. It’s common wisdom that the mail your recipients engage with has an easier time finding its way to the inbox – we can see it in our own deliverability stats, and in some cases, we have it first-hand from inbox providers (like Gmail and Hotmail) that the mail which generates the most user interaction is awarded preferential placement in the inbox. The trick is knowing before the send what content is likely to receive that kind of special treatment.

Part of the reason why it’s such a tough nut to crack is the disparity between senders’ and recipients’ perception of engagement. Senders invest a lot of time and energy producing their message, so we’re bound to find our own content extremely compelling. It’s difficult to disassociate ourselves from our own work, put ourselves in the shoes of recipients, and make a realistic judgement about whether they’re likely to want to read it, too.

The good news is that, like many aspects of marketing and deliverability, we can constrain the amount of guesswork by testing messages with small groups of recipients. And that which can be tested can be optimized. I’m producing a free webinar at the end of March for my employer, Real Magnet, to help senders optimize their e-mail for recipient engagement, with clear, easy action items they can implement right away. Here are a few tips to get started:

If you haven’t already, implement a confirmed opt-in loop for new subscribers. Permission is a strong signal to ISPs of high engagement value to recipients – after all, why would someone give you permission to send mail if they have no intention of reading it? Engage new subscribers immediately with a new e-mail while your message is still top-of-mind in order to capture more opens right away. One proven strategy is to send a link to a subscriber preferences page with your confirmation message. When senders set and meet subscriber expectations of content and frequency, engagement gets a big boost.

Add a line of mouse type above the banner or logo that expands on the subject line. Many desktop and web e-mail clients display at least a few words of the first line of text in the body of the message next to the subject line in preview mode. It’s prime screen real estate, and a great opportunity to provide additional information about the content of your message to further entice them to open your mail. ISPs weight the open rate heavily in senders’ overall engagement metrics, so capturing additional opens is a crucial strategy for boosting engagement.

Remind recipients to add your From: address to their Contacts folder with every message. Every template you use should include a request to add your From: address to your recipients’ Contact folder or Safe Sender list. This frequently overrides server-level filtering rules, and will boost your inbox rate. It’s much harder to get the engagement boost from an open or a click when mail is delivered to Junk. Consider adding a hyperlink in your mail to a branded page of instructions for adding your From: address to the Contacts folder of various mail clients.

Pepper the subject line and content with keywords and phrases your recipients are searching for. Create a free Google AdWords account, and see which terms specific to your industry or products that people are searching for on Google. Make a list of those terms that have the highest number of monthly searches and incorporate them into your creative. But don’t just paste them into the bottom of your message; ISPs are on the watch for “word salad”, a tactic used by spammers to evade certain types of content filters. Work them into the natural narrative of your message to boost engagement and inbox search results.

Test, test, test! Most ESP hosted applications include A/B testing modules that lets senders automatically test variables in an e-mail head to head with small groups of recipients. Find which changes and content result in the highest open and click rates, and roll them out to the rest of your recipients.

Producing e-mail that engages recipients send after send can be a tall order, but senders can front-load their chances of success and minimize the guesswork by optimizing their e-mail for engagement. Set a date on your calendar now for March 31 at 2:00 pm Eastern Time, and join me then for details and step-by-step instructions for these and other engagement strategies.

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