Tune in as we talk with Lauren Meyer, the VP of Industry Relations and Compliance at Kickbox. We do a deep dive into email deliverability, email validation, and so much more! Get 10k free email verifications at Kickbox.com by using the code MAILGENIUS at checkout.
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Can you tell me a little more about the role and how you got involved with Deliverability?
Sure! Prior to my days in email, when I first moved to NYC, I was working for a mutual funds company, and they wanted me to get my Series 7 license. The issue was, I kept falling asleep in my study guides! That’s when I knew it was time to find something I really had a passion for.
Accepted my first role as a QC Specialist for an email company, basically because it seemed like something I knew enough about. That was about 14 years ago, and I”ve never looked back!
I’ve pretty much always been on the senders side of email in some way… working for ESPs, consulting customers on how to resolve deliverability issues, and sending emails myself as a marketer.
I spent the last 4 years prior to Kickbox as the VP of Delivery for Mailjet, a French ESP, where I managed all things related to deliverability, compliance and anti-abuse.
And I’ve been with Kickbox for about 4 months.
Part of my role at Kickbox involves content creation and thought leadership.
- Speaking at conferences, and on industry webinars. Advocating for best practices and a proactive and data-driven approach to email deliverability.
- I’ve contributed to white papers and webinars we’ve given at Kickbox, aiming to help educate our customers. Most of these have a similar over-arching theme of improving deliverability and ROI from email, through engaging in better email address collection and management practices, proactively reviewing your data to identify issues and resolve them, and understanding which best practices you really need to apply in the first place.
- Most recently, we’ve delved into the sign-up process with Kate Barrett from eFocus Marketing. We discussed the need for personalization, segmentation and a proactive approach to list management with Campaign Monitor. And we also partnered up with Seth Charles from Iterable to discuss how to increase email ROI
- I’ve also been doing some guest blogging, appearing on podcasts like this one, and contributing to Kickbox’s 2 monthly blogs, called No Bullsh*t Advice from Email Experts and Email Deliverability Unfiltered
- For each of these, we have 5-10 email experts answer 1 question each month.
Outside of content creation, I’ve also been doing deliverability consultations with our existing customers. The goal here really is to provide value to our customers during a time of need, but at the same time, I’ve found that these conversations are helpful to understanding the misconceptions around deliverability and email verification, the problems most email senders are facing, and ultimately, to identify ways that Kickbox can help them solve those issues.
- Education - if they don’t know what they should be looking at, or are misunderstanding what’s driving their deliverability issue
- Time management issue - helping them get to the answers quicker, so they can understand how they’re doing with email, and then move on with their day.
We’re in a beta phase with a new suite of products right now, all geared towards deliverability, so a great deal of my time has been focused around Product Development and business development.
I’ve been giving demos and collecting feedback from our beta testers, working with marketing to develop a website and go-to-market strategy for this new suite of tools. Working with our team of developers to further develop the new products. To make it as awesome as possible.
It’s been a fun couple of months, and should be a very busy couple of months to come.
What is Kickbox and what are you working on?
Yeah, definitely! Kickbox has traditionally been an email verification provider, but we’re going through a huge transition phase as a company right now…heading deeper into the deliverability space.
This is actually the reason why they hired me about 4 months ago.
Within the next few weeks (of us recording the podcast), Kickbox will be unveiling a new suite of tools designed to help people better understand this black box topic we call Deliverability.
We’ll be baking in aspects of ESP reporting, reputation monitoring, pre-send elements like design preview and seed testing, as well as offering email verification.
Our ultimate goal is to demystify deliverability and to ensure our customers are not able to miss any real deliverability issue that needs their attention.
But at the same time, making sure they’re not freaking out, spending their time chasing non-issues, which is something commonly seen on the existing platforms within the deliverability monitoring space today.
What is email validation and how important is it?
At a very high level, I’d say email validation is a way to identify invalid and non-deliverable email addresses and verify legitimate addresses, giving marketers the ability to improve their delivery and engagement.
Kickbox is an email verification company, helping legitimate email senders protect their reputation and increase open rates by separating the low-quality email addresses from high-value contacts.
Part of that process involves identifying invalid addresses in real-time, at the point of capture. You figure, most of these invalid addresses are typo’s - someone entering their address incorrectly by mistake… I do it all the time.
Normally that kind of mistake leads to a hard bounce, or potentially the address could be a typo spam trap. Both of those have a negative impact on deliverability.
But one thing that we talked about with Kate Barrett was the fact that 95% of customers will come to your website or physical location only once, and never return again.
Instead of missing out on those potential new customers who actually tried to give you their email address, our technology allows companies to check if that address is valid at the point of sign-up. If the address is invalid, it prompts their users to “try again”, and they simply cannot hit “Submit” until a valid email address has been given.
So not just avoiding hard bounces and helping build a cleaner email list, but also assuring you hold on to all of your potential new leads, and build a larger email list, potentially leading to more revenue for the company.
The other part of our service is geared towards marketers who have an existing list. It can be helpful in scenarios such as re-engagement campaigns, or if your company has recently gone through a merger or acquisition and you have no idea how their email list was built or managed.
The benefit in this type of activity is to remove any addresses on your list that may have turned into a hard bounce since they signed up, as well as to have a better understanding of the makeup of your list.
- Do you have a high presence of role accounts or disposable addresses?
- Is a lot of the list coming back as “Undeliverable”, even though you were told all recipients have been mailed to recently? This can suggest data management might be an issue
- If you have multiple data collection sources, our analysis can help you identify which one(s) are causing problems.
I do think email verification has a rightful place within every marketer’s deliverability tech stack, because it can help improve data quality, troubleshoot issues with list collection... and particularly the real-time verification method… can help marketers avoid missed connections with potential new customers.
With that said, email verification cannot create permission where actual consent from the recipient hasn’t been given.
Email verification should also not be seen as a way to remove spam traps from a poorly built list, because there is absolutely no way we can know every single spam trap out there.
The whole point of a spam trap is that it is kept secret. ISPs and anti-spam agencies never disclose them.
Is it possible to identify spam traps? Sure. Most people in the industry have stumbled upon them at some point while doing a deliverability investigation.
But telling customers that you can definitively remove every spam trap from their list… including ones from ISPs, and very credible sources like Spamhaus… it’s simply not possible.
I’d go as far as to say if you are giving people the email addresses that are traps on their list, it’s likely that they will simply remove those traps from their list, and not deal with the reason those traps are on their list in the first place.
So you haven’t removed their problem… just your view of their problem. In that case, you are misleading them to believe they now have a clean list, free from spam traps, when in reality, they’re still going to hit spam traps when they hit Send, and so the risk to deliverability is still there.
What are bounces and why should I care?
Bounced emails are addresses that could not be delivered successfully to recipients. In these cases, you’ll get a bounce response from the ISP telling you the message was not delivered, and giving some codes and other information that should help you understand “why” the message wasn’t delivered.
Bounces can be a bit cryptic, pointing to a transient failure, or pointing to your messages being flagged as spam in some way.
But in general, they typically fall into two categories:
- A hard bounce, which indicates the address you are contacting does not exist, or is not accepting messages at the time that you tried to contact them. In this case, you’ll want to focus on how you can improve data capture using tools like email verification, CAPTCHAs on all of your sign-up forms, or a double opt-in process.
- A soft bounce usually stems from an issue with sender reputation, or it could be a case where the domain you’re sending to is either having a bad day or doesn’t exist. In these cases, it’s time to explore your metrics other than bounces to identify what might be causing the problem. Is this just Yahoo having a bad day, and you should try sending again later? Or is this a bounce driven by reputation, in which case you should look to resolve the issue: whether it be with complaints, spam trap hits, blocklistings or something else.
People should care about bounces, because they do have an impact on deliverability. And because the type of bounce you’re seeing, the message that’s provided, and the network you’re seeing it at all tell you something very specific.
Gmail for example, doesn’t actually block mail very often...not until your sender reputation has been poor for some time.
They start by sending a bit of your mail to the spam folder, and then a bit more, and if you continue to send to an audience who doesn’t really engage… or worse, if you are generating high complaint rates, sending content that includes links with a poor reputation… things like that… they will start to block you. Seeing even a few soft bounces from Gmail should be a very clear indication that something is very wrong.
How do you define deliverability and what are the foundations of deliverability that everyone should know?
Well, deliverability is essentially the ability for an email to make it to the inbox of a recipient.
This is different from the Delivery or Acceptance Rate, which measures the amount of mail that was accepted by Gmail, Hotmail or any other ISP.
Deliverability is what happens after a message has been marked as delivered.
Every ISP has a different policy in place when it comes to anti-spam filtering. Some ISPs may be looking at just a few key signals, while others (like Gmail) are looking at 100’s of signals when determining if a message should be accepted into their system, and then later, if it should be delivered to the inbox or spam folder.
At the end of the day, the main goal of an ISP is to deliver a great email experience for their user… to only deliver mail to the inbox when they believe the user will find value in it.
Even if a user signed up for a sender’s mail at some point...if they are no longer engaging in ways that the ISP can see, then the mail will not continue to show up in the inbox.
So the key to consistent inbox placement is found through building a high-quality list of active and continually engaged subscribers. The best way to do this is to send emails only to people who have willingly given their email address.
After the initial sign-up, marketers should shift their focus, keeping a close eye on engagement metrics and their target KPIs to understand if recipients are continuing to show interest in the content they receive. If they’re not engaging with your emails, then they are hurting your deliverability.
Do you have a specific workflow or framework for tackling deliverability issues?
Yes and No…
There are soooo many directions a deliverability investigation can go in. You’ve really gotta follow the signals that you have at hand, such as any bounce messages you can refer to, when the issue started and how widespread it is. Use those facts to gain a little context about the urgency and scope of the issue first before diving right in.
I typically start by asking questions such as:
- What specific issues are you seeing, and where? Did you notice a drop at one particular domain, or is the issue across the board, with all domains?
- The path to investigating and resolving an ISP block will look different than if we’re dealing with a spam folder issue. And the strategy might change if we’re facing an issue at Gmail vs Hotmail vs a regional destination in France or Germany.
- All of these ISPs have a similar goal in mind, which is to deliver only wanted mail to their users inboxes… and to block the rest. But the way they define “wanted” mail is different. And the way each of them filters spam and phish, the patterns and metrics that matter to them the most, the sophistication in their filtering… all of that tells us something about what’s driving the issue.
- How did you discover your issue?
- Are you seeing bounce messages? If so, what do those say?
- Are customers complaining about emails going missing or ending up in their spam folders?
- Did your seed test results indicate mail was missing or in the spam folder
- This question can help me understand how widespread your issue might be, and give clues as to how to solve it
- Did you change anything recently like authentication or lead sources?
- Have you modified your segmentation recently, to remove or include inactive users?
I also ask them about their list collection and segmentation, since I find that most deliverability issues are driven by problems with targeting people you shouldn’t be: either because they didn’t like what you were sending them, or they didn’t sign up in the first place. Or they did sign up but didn’t remember doing it. So it’s helpful to ask things like:
- How are addresses ending up on their lists? What are those collection sources
- What was the lead magnet that brought them there? A sweepstakes, a banner ad, a referral from an affiliate
- What expectations have been set about the kind of content recipients will receive, and how often they’ll receive it?
- I’ll often go and sign up for the program myself, to test out the experience, look for potential issues with data collection, and to see what happens after I hit Submit.
- Do they send me a welcome email, and what does that look like? What does that tell me?
- Do they send me the content they promised?
- Do they send me any content I wasn’t expecting?
- How often do they contact me?
- Does their unsubscribe link work?
All of this information can help us understand what might be driving an issue with elevated complaints or bounces, blacklistings that are coming out of nowhere. Really any type of issue customers are seeing.
Claim your 10k free
email verification credits at kickbox.com
by using code MAILGENIUS