Welcome to the post-GDPR world! There has been a lot of concern regarding the long-term impacts of GDPR on digital marketing efforts, but even in the short-term – Enforcement Day (May 25) was just a few short weeks ago – we are seeing some immediate impacts to overall email deliverability.
My suspicions regarding the driving factors responsible for this are:
1. A sharp increase in volume from many senders.
2. Sends to seldom-used lists that contain outdated email addresses.
Many mailbox providers are especially skeptical of large sudden increases in volume, as in some previous cases this has been the result of a malicious actor for either phishing or viral purposes. As a result, they will either deliver the mailings to the spam folder or reject them outright.
Additionally, many senders in the course of re-permissioning their lists ended up sending to contacts they were not regularly engaging with via email. This resulted in many senders receiving a higher number of invalid address errors, hard bounces which mailbox providers don’t tend to appreciate. They take this as a sign that the sender doesn’t maintain good data hygiene practices, and they reduce the reputation of the sending domain and IP accordingly. A reduced domain reputation at providers like Gmail and Hotmail will result in a larger percent of mailings being delivered to spam rather than the inbox.
Another concern is sending to contacts that haven’t been sent an email in several months, as they may have forgotten that they ever subscribed to begin with. This tends to lead to spam complaints, which are damaging to domain and IP reputation as well.
Looking at data provided by 250ok’s Community ISP Health page from May 6 to June 5 at the top four consumer domains – Gmail, Hotmail, AOL and Apple – we can see that most of them saw a decrease in delivery to the inbox. I’ve added a polynomial trendline to the data points, because there tends to be a good bit of variability from day to day.
(Data courtesy of 250ok)
Ultimately, I believe this is a situation that will recover largely on its own as senders reduce volume. However, if sending volume is reduced and open rates continue to sag, it may be a sign of a more persistent deliverability issue. Since it is technologically not possible to know which folder of a recipient’s mailbox an email was delivered to, sending to a seed list provides a good approximation. A deliverability seed list is a small sample of addresses (under your control) across various services that you can check for inbox placement after sending the message. Tools like 250ok offer a much more robust experience by providing a wider range and larger number of addresses than it is feasible to maintain in-house, among other offerings.
If you suspect there is a more serious issue and a B2C sender, it may also be worth signing up for something like Postmaster Tools by Gmail to check how they perceive your domain’s reputation. Postmaster Tools will provide data regarding the aggregate spam complaint rate they are seeing from your domain, and the error rate. Gmail also provides their rating for your domain, though it only gives a High, Medium or Low reputation rating. You need to have access to the DNS for your sending domain to verify ownership, but if you are a B2C sender, it’s a great measure of domain reputation.