*This post first appeared on 250OK’s blog here.
Welcome to How The Top 500 Internet Retailers Collect Email Sign-ups (2016), an analysis of how retailers promote their programs, leverage mobile optimization, use social sign-ups, capture personal data, and more. In addition, we have shared some year-over-year trend insights compared to How The Top 500 Internet Retailers Collect Email Sign-ups (2015). Let’s dig in.
First, it’s important to consider why consumers sign up for promotional programs from internet retailers.
According to the 2016 Consumer Adoption & Usage Study by Adestra — a survey of 1,251 consumers age 14-67 who live in the United States — most (85%) reported they sign up for discounts or promotions.
According to Adestra’s survey, the most popular types of promotions consumers want are percentage-off offers (35%), free shipping (20%), free trials (14%), and dollar-off promotions (14%).
Our analysis revealed that only 38.2% of retailers incentivized consumers to sign up. However, it’s worth noting that compared to last year’s analysis, nearly 10% more retailers offered incentives. The top three incentives made available to consumers were percentage-off offers (22.3%), dollar-off promotions (7.6%), sweepstakes (4.4%), and free shipping (3.9%).
Examples: Sweeptsakes as sign-up incentives
We analyzed the location of email sign-up forms or links on retailer websites. The most common placement position is still the footer (83%), with the header (26.2%) and mid-page (2.4%) less prominent. Pop-up placement came in at 32.4%. We discovered that nearly half of retailers (48.4%) used two or more sign-up placements.
Surprisingly, on 5.2% of the websites we reviewed, we failed to find an email sign-up. And for those email sign-ups we did locate, the sign-up process was broken in 1.1% of those cases.
Examples: Welcome mats
Of those retailers using pop-ups, welcome mats (82%) were the most common. Others used timed or triggered pop-ups (14.3%), while the rest used a scrolling pop-up (3.7%).
Examples: Welcome mate and scrolling pop-up served simultaneously
Pop-up madness? In our analysis, we were simultaneously served a welcome mat and scrolling pop-up only once.
SumoMe performed an analysis of 300 million pop-ups generated by their customers that showed strong conversion rates when compared to traditional email sign-up positions. However, we are curious to see how consumer engagement with these disruptive pop-ups, especially in the mobile environment, evolves over the next twelve months, and how retailers react to those trends.
Given that mobile usage at the top 100 digital properties in December 2015, in aggregate, surpassed the desktop audience, we expected a mobile-friendly experience on all websites. Surprisingly, 8% of websites were still not optimized for mobile.
Examples: Websites not optimized for mobile email sign-up as viewed on an iPhone 6
Personal Data Collection
One of 2016’s hottest topics among the Top 500 Internet Retailers is personalization. Personal data collected from consumers can be used to customize their brand experience in a variety of ways. For example, a 2015 Experian Marketing Services study revealed a cross-industry average increase of 29.3% in open rates when using personalization in the subject lines.
Example: Birth date, age, and gender data collection at email sign-up
Our analysis found that only 39.8% of retailers asked for a name during a promotional email sign-up.
Other types of data collection included location (18.4%), birthday (12.8%), and gender (10.3%). Some retailers (21%) asked for event-specific details, and a smaller group (8.8%) requested that subscribers share their main interests (e.g., books, technology, fashion).
Using Social Sign-up
Social sign-up, or social login, according to Wikipedia, “is a form of single sign-on using existing login information from a social networking or e-commerce service.” There are multiple benefits regularly associated with the use of social sign-up, including a more simple user experience for subscribers, and, for retailers, improved list hygiene and access to additional personal data. Taylor Nelson, Growth Specialist at social sign on provider LoginRadius, said, “On average, our customers have seen 40-60% of an increase in conversion rates with some reaching upwards of 130%.”
We discovered nearly 34% of retailers allowed subscribers to use one or more third-party accounts to sign-up for emails. Nine different account types showed up in our study with Facebook (49%), Google (22.6%), Amazon (8.65%), and Twitter (8.65%) leading the way.
Facebook allows marketers to request access to over 40 types of permissions. Our analysis revealed that the most common permissions requested by retailers were for access to the public profile (100%), which can include name, photo, age, gender, and more, and the subscriber’s email address (97%).
The 3% of retailers that failed to ask for the email address associated with a consumer’s Facebook account requested an email address be manually added by the user. It’s our perspective that not pulling an address from Facebook increases the likelihood that a user accidently or intentionally enters the wrong email address. Our assumption is that these retailers wanted to give the subscriber the opportunity to confirm their primary email address. Evidently, almost all retailers did not think the risk was worth the reward.
Example: Social sign-up option using Facebook for email sign-up
Example: Facebook permission approval screen resulting from a social sign-up
Other Facebook permissions requested included access to a consumer’s birthday (15.7%), friend list (9.8%), location (3.9%), and likes (3.9%). Less than 1% of retailers allowing for a Facebook sign-up requested access to a subscriber’s education or personal description.
Single Opt-in vs. Double Opt-in
This year’s analysis revealed that approximately 9% of retailers used a double opt-in, or confirmed opt-in, process with subscribers. Compared to 2015, we observed a 3% growth in double opt-in usage versus last year.
A survey by BlueHornet found that 74.4% of subscribers expect to see the first email immediately. For many marketers, welcome emails are frequently the best performing messages sent.
In a follow-up study, we will go into greater detail about the welcome emails and email series used by the Top 500 Internet Retailers, but we felt it was important to mention here that 96% of retailers that we successfully registered with delivered the first message within 82 hours. Half of the welcome emails triggered immediately (50.6%), with the majority of welcome emails (61.5%) arriving within one hour.
The pre-welcome-email incentive? Instead of the first incentive arriving via email, a relatively low number of retailers have begun to reward email sign-ups with an immediate incentive at the point of registration.
Examples: Immediate incentive for email sign-up at point of subscription
Considering the reported consumer desire for an immediate response to email sign-ups, we expect to see an increase in this type of reward in next year’s analysis.
We found a small number of retailers using loss aversion techniques in the email sign-up messaging. This approach appears to be an emerging trend among retailers. We will dig a bit deeper on this topic in next year’s analysis.
Examples: Loss aversion messaging on email sign-up forms
View the How The Top 500 Internet Retailers Collect Email Sign-ups (2016) infographic below:
Sending email shouldn’t be that complicated, right? Let’s talk about a recipient on your list. In this case, we’ll call her “Jane.” Jane sees a piece of content you create and decides she wants to receive your newsletter. She signs up and even confirms her subscription (confirmed opt-in, score!). All of your future newsletters should land in her inbox, no questions asked. Seems simple, right?
I hate to break it to you, but that’s not how it works. There are many moving pieces to the email journey, and hitting “send” is the easy part.
Malicious senders in the form of spammers, phishers, spoofers and [enter other bad-guy types here]—including overly aggressive marketers—have turned the email journey to the inbox into a match of American Gladiator. Walls, flying tennis ball artillery, you name it.
To give you a better idea, I’ve outlined a high-level view of what happens when you send mail. While the particulars will vary based on the networks involved, it goes a little something like this:
1. Outbound spam filters (the “artillery”) The email passes through a spam filter before leaving the message transfer agent (MTA). Many email service providers (ESPs) have implemented some form of outbound filtering to protect against malware and phishing attacks that often originate from compromised accounts. Some providers even backup this type of machine policing with human review teams.
2. Blacklists (the “walls”) Before the receiving mail system will even think about accepting a message, it is checked against a number of internal and external IP-based blacklists (a.k.a. a DNS-based Blackhole List) to determine if the sending source is worthy of delivering mail to the mailbox provider. Blacklists like Spamhaus, Barracuda, and SpamCop exist to reduce the deluge of spam.
3. Internal content filters (just when you thought you made it!) Next, the email passes through a content filter on the receiving mail system that is especially designed to smoke out any bad links or attachments, in real time. If any of this content is deemed malicious, your message likely will be rejected entirely.
4. Commercial content filters (yep, more filters) At this point, the email passes through commercial content filters to see if it contains anything left unidentified by earlier gates in the system. You might be surprised at how many of these commercial filters are being used by major mailbox providers. In most cases, failing this step results in a message being filed as spam, rather than rejected outright.
5. Black-box filters (almost there…) Finally, the email is checked against various forms of other filters, especially at providers that offer mailbox-level filtering, to determine if the message should be placed in the inbox or spam folder. And if you’re sending to Gmail, there are also tab placement options besides only hitting the inbox.
And if all of this wasn’t enough, the logic supporting every point in the above list is constantly evolving.
Email deliverability is the term coined for measuring the success of a message reaching its intended recipient. Deliverability, as you can now imagine, is often perceived as a mystical (and sometimes unobtainable) thing because of the complexity involved. You might feel the same way when your mail is placed in Jane’s spam folder or rejected entirely.
The reality is that every serious sender needs the strategy and the tools to successfully deliver mail. Senders need visibility and the actionable data to continuously improve their deliverability.
If you’re curious and want to dive into details about the email journey your mails are taking, 250ok and SparkPost have partnered to provide SparkPost customers with some great tools for analyzing your own inbox performance.
About the Author:
Greg Kraios is a hardcore email nerd and the Founder/CEO of 250ok, the preferred choice for email analytics tools. Before 250ok, Greg spent several years at Salesforce Marketing Cloud (formerly ExactTarget) serving as their ISP Relations Manager, as well as providing deliverability consulting services to a variety senders including Angie’s List, Aprimo and PopularMedia (acquired by StrongView).
You’re probably familiar with the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Likewise, it takes key partners to service the multilayered needs of today’s sophisticated marketer. Email-at-scale is complex and it can be expensive when you don’t have the right tools. More importantly, it can be disappointing when that email doesn’t arrive to the inbox. To ensure our customers have maximum visibility into how their emails are performing, we’re announcing a partnership and integration with 250ok to improve access to deliverability tools and rendering technology.
Deliverability tools are a special class of tool that help companies measure their deliverability to the inbox. These tools ensure that emails landing in the inbox render consistently across devices and they protect a brand’s reputation and measure engagement through the analysis and synthesis of multiple data sources both public and private. We’re excited to work with 250ok; they have built a best-of-breed platform that addresses the concerns of today’s data-driven marketers.
Customers using SparkPost Elite will now have access to 250ok tools, services, and reporting. From forensic and aggregate DMARC reporting to the 250ok spamtrap network, SparkPost Elite customers can now use the world’s most powerful sending technology with the market’s premiere deliverability tools provider to maximize their inbox placement and understand engagement trends. Additionally, we think they’re a pretty cool set of folks to work with, and we share a lot of the same characteristics. We’re all obsessed with good UI/UX, have a mutual respect for awesome-APIs, work at a rapid clip and care deeply for our customers’ success.
According to Tim Moore, 250ok VP of Customer Solutions, “By combining 250ok’s analytics and reputation offering with SparkPost Elite’s platform and services, customers will have a new layer of contextual and actionable visibility allowing them to unleash the full potential of the email channel.”
We’re sure that our customers will be as excited as we are to have this amazing set of tools at their disposal. If you’re using SparkPost Elite and want to know more about 250ok, reach out to your Technical Account Manager. Or, just give me, and my colleagues at 250ok, a shout. We’ll make sure you have what you need to be successful.
For more details, check out the full press release.
Let me start by saying I’m no mathematician, nor am I statistician, nor do I play one on TV. So occasionally, I need to look up the definitions of mean and median (cheat sheet: they’re the arithmetic average and the middle point in a series). I don’t think I’m alone in occasionally mixing up these closely-related (but nonetheless distinct) concepts.
Similarly, email deliverability, acceptance rate, seed list testing, and panel data are different ways of measuring delivery of email to the inbox. These metrics are related to one another, but they don’t mean the same thing. So, what exactly do they mean? And how can email marketers use these different approaches to evaluate the success of their campaigns?
Deliverability is the broadest of these terms. Deliverability is a fundamental metric for email marketers and other senders, because there’s no chance for a recipient to open, read, and respond to an offer if the email never arrives. Full stop.
Moreover, deliverability seems straightforward. If I send 1000 emails, and my server’s log files say 900 of those were accepted by receiving systems, then my deliverability is 90%. Simple, right? Yes… but no. What this figure represents is really the message acceptance rate. That’s because all the server knows is that the receiving system took the message, but not what was done with it. Did it go to the inbox? The spam folder? The sender really doesn’t know, because in both cases, the SMTP transaction is logged as as successful “250 OK”—SMTP itself doesn’t differentiate spam from legitimate email. That ambiguity is why server-side measures of message acceptance are just a starting point.
Acceptance rates don’t say anything directly about inbox placement. And inbox placement is what we really care about, for the simple reason that that’s overwhelmingly the most likely place a recipient is actually going to read our email. It’s safe to say that recipients who take the time to hunt through the various unsavory contents of a spam folder for a legitimate marketing offer are few and far between.
Addressing the question of inbox placement is why companies like 250OK, Return Path, and IBM Email Optimization offer seed list testing services. Here’s how it works: a sender includes special “seed” (test) email addresses at various ISPs among the recipients of their campaign. The seed list service providers then monitor those accounts with tools that determine where your email landed in their seed account—the inbox, the spam folder,… or perhaps if didn’t arrive at all. Because seed lists employ a known (and relatively small) set of addresses to test, they can give an answer about email performance of a particular campaign to those specific addresses. However, the information learned from seed lists should be considered at best directional. They can’t give you a comprehensive assessment of performance.
That’s where one more way to measure deliverability performance really becomes important: panel data. While seed lists use definitive results for specific email messages at a small number of addresses to extrapolate overall campaign performance, panels take something of the reverse approach. Panel providers like eDataSource monitor millions of real-world recipient inboxes (the owners of said mailboxes have agreed to participate in the research, by the way!) and aggregate data about message characteristics and performance over time. Thus, while seed lists are good leading indicators of the efficacy of a particular campaign, panel data is best for assessing broad slices of real-world performance. This includes overall message volume by sender, the behavior of senders in responding to bounces and feedback loops, and aggregate inbox placement across campaigns and time. Panel data is a powerful way to take in the big picture and to compare senders.
In short: email deliverability is a broad concept. It can be measured in multiple ways, including reporting message acceptance rates, performance to seed lists, and aggregate behavior as measured by panel data. All three methods of testing and measuring deliverability can be useful. All three also have their limitations.
When I consulted for email senders, I used to advise my clients to use a mixture of the three. Acceptance rates are the most blunt measure of how systems are technically working, but they don’t say much of anything about message performance per se. On the other hand, while seed lists provide a quantifiable way to see how a particular campaign is proceeding (and how specific tweaks to content, templates, etc., affect performance), they don’t give much of a big picture view. And panel data analysis gives you a good insight to how you’re doing relative to your industry and provides longitudinal benchmarks across campaigns over time.
(In fact, we use a combination of all of these methods to monitor different aspects of our own email deliverability performance at SparkPost. Empirical evidence is something we’re proud to stand behind when we talk about SparkPost’s inbox placement rate.)
However you slice it, measurement, testing, benchmarking, and tracking inbox performance are critical to the success of every sender. Getting a message to the inbox is just the beginning of your customer conversation—but it’s the only way it can get started.