Engagement Discussion Based on BS ... For Years
By Ken Magill
Information reportedly revealed during a panel discussion at the Email Experience Council’s conference in Florida earlier this month has turned the whole idea of email engagement on its head.
According to Dela Quist, chief executive of email marketing agency Alchemy Worx, John Scarrow, general manager of safety services for Microsoft, and other email inbox provider representatives said during the panel discussion that they do not monitor clicks to determine whether or not incoming messages should be treated as spam.
What’s more, according to Quist, Scarrow said as long as marketers follow list-hygiene best practices, it is unwise for them to remove email addresses from their files after a year or two of inactivity.
“The guy from Outlook.com said anyone who removes their inactives—and I’m not talking 10 years—but he said if you remove your one- and two-year inactives from your list you're leaving money on the table,” said Quist.
“They then went on to say: “We do not measure clicks ever as a measure of engagement,’” said Quist. “’It’s against privacy. Even if we could we wouldn’t.’”
“The guy said: ‘We kind of measure opens, but not in the way you guys think,’” said Quist. “’Engagement to us is moving into the spam folder, out of the spam folder, replying to an email. That’s engagement.
“And they also said that engagement in its own right will not get a sender blocked,” said Quist.
If Quist’s recollection is correct—and it has been verified by another attendee in a blog post I will link to below—it would mean one of the most prominent ongoing discussions in email marketing has been based on a load of nonsense.
Put another way, a lot of so-called experts in permission-based email marketing are completely full of crap and have been full of crap a very long time.
For years, many email service providers' deliverability experts have argued that ISPs make deliverability decisions based on—among other things—on recipients’ engagement, or lack thereof, with senders’ messages.
In defining engagement, they almost always cite clicks as a top metric.
ESP experts have also argued over the years that removing inactive addresses is a way to drive so-called engagement metrics up and improve the sender’s email reputation.
And now we hear the major ISPs don’t even look at clicks as a measure of engagement. And one representative even said a lack of engagement alone will not get a sender blocked.
This would mean that any marketer adhering to the advice of an expert telling them they should remove inactive addresses from their files to increase their engagement metrics such as clicks has been following some very bad advice.
Moreover, they have certainly lost sales as a result. Extrapolate the idea of marketers needlessly removing inactive addresses and losing sales as a result across the industry, and the lost revenue potential is staggering.
So-called experts have cited clicks as a primary engagement metric repeatedly.
“Engagement (a measure of the number of people who open your email, click on links versus the total number of people to whom the email was sent) is going to carry the most weight in the coming months,” said a 2013 CakeMail blog post.
“While open rates and click-throughs are typically considered engagement metrics for email marketing campaigns, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) look at them as a test of deliverability,” said a blog post from Lyris in 2012.
“From a deliverability perspective, click-through rate is the number one engagement measurement that ISPs rely on because it shows a definitive action taken by the email subscriber,” said a Responsys blog post in March.
“Many ISPs now look at customer activity to determine whether or not to deliver email. ISPs often use custom algorithms to measure engagement, but common metrics may include the following:
“2. Clicks,” said a 2014 SendGrid blog post.
“Engagement is a metric used to determine which customers are interacting – that is, opening and clicking – with your emails. ISPs such as Gmail know who is opening and clicking on your emails; they also know who is viewing emails, and who’s deleting before or after reading. They crunch this data to determine engagement rates,” said a 2013 Act-On blog post.
And here is an example of an expert recommending removing inactive addresses based on, among other things, a lack of clicks:
“Are your subscribers opening and clicking your emails? Or do they delete your emails without opening them, unsubscribe, or report them as spam? Gmail uses such engagement metrics to determine whether its users want your emails. So if your subscribers are inactive — i.e., if they haven’t opened or clicked your emails in a certain period of time, such as 6 months — you should consider running a reengagement campaign. In this way, you’ll identify the subscribers who aren’t interested in receiving your emails and can remove them from your list,” said a 2012 blog post on FulcrumTech.
Does this development mean ISPs don’t look at engagement? No. But they reportedly look at different metrics than many claimed.
According to a report on the EEC event posted on the MailUp blog by Massimo Arrigoni, in order to assess engagement, ISPs look at opens, replies, “move to junk,” “not junk,” “delete without open,” “move to folder,” and “add to address book.”
The post is a must-read for Magill Report readers.
Note the absence of clicks as an engagement metric ISPs reportedly track. And remember the Microsoft representative said they track opens “but not in the way you guys think,” according to Quist.
The metrics the ISPs do reportedly track are not available to marketers unless they employ one of the email intelligence vendors who claim to be able to track such metrics with their panels, such as Return Path and eDataSource. [Full disclosure: Both are clients.]
In any case, a lot of people have some ‘splainin’ to do.