Here’s one of those things that impacts email deliverability which can be so subtle, and yet so critical. It can bite you in the back without your realizing it, and then six months later you wonder why you have gangrene in your knees; it can be that difficult to connect the dots. That is until someone points it out to you, and then you have that forehead-slapping moment: of course! And that thing is that setting and meeting subscriber expectations will have a direct and demonstrable impact on your email deliverability (not to mention your email’s effectiveness).

Why Setting and Meeting Expectations is Key to Good Email Deliverability

If your subscribers expect one thing, and you instead deliver another, they are going to stop opening your email, and start reporting it as spam. Yes it really is that simple. For example, if you don’t tell someone how often you will email them at the point that they sign up, they may have a general expectation that you will email them about once a week, or maybe even every other week or once a month. Then when you start emailing them 3 times a week, they’re going to get annoyed, and feel like you are spamming them. And at best they will stop opening your email.

Of course the very act of not opening your mail will affect email deliverability. If too few people open it they consider that a sign that their users mostly don’t want your email, and into the junk folder it goes.)

Then of course, if your subscribers get annoyed enough, they may mark your email as spam, at which point all bets are off. This is what often gives rise to the more-common-than-you-would-think complaint “Why are they marking our email as spam when they asked to get our email?”

It’s because they asked for one thing, and you are sending them another. Again, it really is that simple.

Why it Happens

This situation can happen for a number of reasons, but the most common are:

  • You really are sending them what you told them you would, but somehow you didn’t communicate to them effectively what you would be sending them, so they expected something else.
  • You really are sending them what you told them you would – and you are also sending them third-party offers within the email you are sending them.
  • You really are sending them what you told them you would, but you are also sending them other things which they did not expect, and so did not sign up for.
  • You told them you would send them something – but what you really are sending them is something just a little bit (or a lot) different. <nudge nudge> <wink wink>

These are, by the way, listed in order from least bad to worst practices, both in terms of how it may affect your deliverability, and in terms of best practices generally.

Fortunately, all of these can be corrected quite easily. In most cases all it really takes is changing the wording of your offer to make sure that people who sign up for your lists really know exactly what they will be getting from you – and how often.

If your reaction to that advice is “But if I tell them exactly what they’ll be getting, many fewer people will sign up,” well, then, perhaps it’s time to rethink your emailing model altogether. Because if you don’t, eventually the ISPs, inbox providers, and blocklists are going to rethink it for you.

Your homework for today is to go back to where your subscribers sign up for your lists, pretending that you are an end user coming to your site for the first time, and ask yourself “Given what I see here, what would *I* expect when I signed up for this mailing list?” Then ask yourself – is that really what you’re giving them?

(Email marketing service Act! has a good overview of setting email subscriber expectations.)

Why Setting Subscriber Expectations is Critical to Email Deliverability

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